Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Health system unprepared for effects of climate change

An editorial by Bob Doppelt in the Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon): A number of my friends have asthma. It’s distressing to learn that a new report says that climate change will dramatically increase respiratory diseases. In fact, the study concluded that climate change is likely to be the biggest global threat to public health this century. Preparing for these risks should be a top priority.

The health effects described in the report produced by University College London and The Lancet, a public health journal, are based on the likelihood that the Earth’s average mean surface temperature will rise this century by between 3.6 degrees and 10.8 degrees. …The UCL-Lancet assessment found that billions of people’s health will be affected, directly and indirectly, by this temperature increase.

Direct health effects include rising incidences of vector and water-borne diseases. Heat stroke, exhaustion and related illnesses and deaths will multiply. Injuries and deaths from extreme weather events will also climb. And, respiratory problems such as the asthma my friends have will swell, along with many allergies.

As troublesome as this seems, the indirect health effects are likely to be even larger. The UCL-Lancet study found that malnutrition and hunger will rise due to falling crop yields caused by rising temperatures, damage from extreme weather, and more drought and insect infestation. Rising sea levels will force millions worldwide to flee coastal areas, and the movements of climate refugees will spread communicable diseases…

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