Thursday, October 18, 2007

UCLA conference explores warming dangers

Ventura County Star (California): …The list of health threats that may be linked to global warming is almost endless, according to experts at a conference on the human impacts of climate change held Wednesday at UCLA. …Conference speakers said the health risks are not completely understood but remain as real as the World Health Organization's estimate that climate change can already be linked to 150,000 deaths and about 5 million illnesses a year. Officials of the international organization say the numbers could double within 25 years.

Dr. Jonathan Patz, an environmental health scientist from the University of Wisconsin, said global warming means more of the heat waves that killed tens of thousands in Europe in 2003 and can turn blacktopped cities into urban heat islands. He cited a study predicting the number of heat-wave days in Los Angeles could rise over several decades from about 12 a year now to 44 to 95 days.

Global warming means more than rising temperatures. Patz said the changing composition of the atmosphere means more extreme weather of all kinds: drought, floods and mudslides. "Warmer sea surface temperatures drive hurricane winds," said Patz, citing a global increase in category 4 and 5 storms.

But the flooding doesn't mean more water. Patz said about 40 percent of the water supply to Southern California could be vulnerable by 2020 because of the loss of snowpack in the Sierra Nevada and the Colorado River basin.

Some of the threats hit people where they breathe. The Natural Resources Defense Council presented a study stating that the rise in ozone pollution could mean more ragweed and, with it, more asthma and allergies.

There are social justice issues, too. The poor and elderly living on fixed budgets may be hit harder by heat waves because they can't afford air conditioning. Patz said that, while undeveloped countries struggle with the rising rate of malaria and other infectious diseases linked to rising temperatures, it's the United States that emits the most carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. "I believe climate change is a moral issue, especially when you consider the health effects," he said. "Are we, in fact, with our energy policy exporting death and disease around the world?"…

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