Global Warming and Your Health
The issue of global warming is hugely topical at this time with the release of the doomsday film ‘The day after tomorrow’. The film is based on the premise that the infusion of freshwater into the North Atlantic from melting glaciers in Greenland halts the circulation of water via the Gulf Stream.
Such a doomsday scenario is not new, indeed a leaked report from the Pentagon earlier this year warned of a similar global nightmare. It warned of rioting and nuclear war; suggested that Britain and Ireland would be ‘Siberian’ in less than 20 years and that the threat to the world from climate change is greater than terrorism.
The impact of extreme weather on people’s health has become a ‘hot’ topic, if you will pardon the pun. Indeed, the latest ‘British Medical Journal’ has made it the cover story with a series of disturbing observations on the subject.
The film ‘The day after tomorrow’ shows New York under water,
Global warming is causing disasters with New Delhi snow covered
and Britain in the grip of an ice age. The question is – is this the
Of course it is not all a product of Hollywood imagination. Last year,
around 15,000 people died in France as a result of a devastating heat wave. Extreme weather conditions have provoked storms, floods and drought and have killed thousands of people this century alone. So what is different now?
According to the BMJ, the health impacts of global warming may be abrupt as well as long term. Climatologists say that global warming will not simply manifest itself by a gradual rise in average temperatures, but it is the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events – such as heat waves,
droughts, floods and storms – that are likely to occur. The impact on health services could be huge.
The focus on the US in this latest doomsday movie is relevant. American leadership is vital for a serious response to global warming. The US produces around one quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases. Despite this, the US President George Bush pulled away from the Kyoto agreement. As the editor of the BMJ says, the result is that our grandchildren will find themselves in an increasingly degraded world.
The medical publishers of the BMJ were prompted to examine the
issue after one of the publication’s correspondents suggested a theme
on ‘America as a global threat to health’. There is not a little irony, the
BMJ notes, that the American creativity and flair, which many admire,
has produced not a solution to global warming but a film to scare
On average, the number of people killed each year by weather disasters is put at around 123,000. Many more are affected physically or through loss of property or livelihood. Hurricane Mitch, the most deadly hurricane to hit the western hemisphere in the last 200 years killed 11,000 people. Extreme weather causes injuries, fatalities, and increases the incidence of diseases such as malaria.
Ozone air pollution is speeded up by warmer weather. According to Professor Jonathan Patz, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins University in the US, excessive rainfall and runoff can lead to large numbers of micro-organisms entering drinking water and outbreaks of waterborne diseases have been associated with heavy rainfall events in the US and elsewhere.
Global warming is likely to increase the number of hungry people by
90 million this century. Climate change on food production results in
lower yields of cereal grains in the tropics, areas already under water
stress. Droughts lead to forest fires which are associated with more respiratory disease, eye problems, injuries and fatalities.
While the doomsday scenarios may be far from reality, Patz argues that the slower march of climate change still presents a formidable challenge for the health sector and society as a whole. The many health effects posed by climate change are likely to arrive through numerous convoluted pathways, rather than perhaps a tidal wave.
But that is far from any consolation. We have been warned.