Global Warming and Your Health
- Feb 3, 2008
A Stanford University environmental engineering professor has released
results of a study showing a cause-and-effect relationship between
higher levels of carbon dioxide and higher levels of harmful air
By itself, the study is noteworthy for providing more empirical
evidence that loading carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases
into the atmosphere is risky behavior. More broadly, the study is
another important reminder that climate change has more immediate
relevance for human society than the fate of polar bears or distant
coral reefs. Not that polar bears and coral reefs are unimportant.
Protecting them is an obligation in both moral and practical terms.
But for people who find global warming too abstract and far removed
from everyday life, bears and reefs are not compelling reasons to act.
As social activist Van Jones has pointed out, the movement to arrest
global warming needs more than one entry point if it is to become as
broad and deep as it needs to be.
One of those entry points is health. There is no person alive who is
unconcerned about health, for themselves and for loved ones. Make a
convincing case that global warming will have serious consequences for
human health, and that moves the conversation a step ahead in
persuading people and their political leaders to do something about
Back to the Stanford study. Low-level ozone is a respiratory hazard
that forms when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides from tailpipes and
other sources react chemically in the presence of heat and strong
sunlight. Hence the term "photochemical smog." Professor Mark Jacobson
found a cause-and-effect relationship between increased heat tied to
carbon dioxide and increased air pollution. Every degree Celsius
increase in temperature caused by carbon dioxide results in 1,000
additional deaths in the United States, plus many additional cases of
respiratory disease, Professor Jacobson estimated.
Jacobson used a sophisticated model that he has developed and refined
over the past two decades to estimate how much ozone and particulate
matter would form as a result of hotter temperatures caused by higher
levels of atmospheric CO2. Alarmingly, he found that higher
temperatures caused by CO2 stimulate ozone formation over urban areas.
In addition, warmer air allows for higher levels of water vapor,
itself a greenhouse gas which boosts temperatures further and
increases ozone formation all the more. Also, water vapor enlarges
airborne particulates, allowing acidic gases to dissolve inside the
particles, thus exacerbating their toxicity.
Air pollution is not the only projected health consequence of global
warming. Another is heat. The European heat wave of 2003, which killed
an estimated 35,000 people, vividly and tragically exemplified the
terrible consequences of prolonged, intense heat waves, especially in
northern regions not accustomed to them and for people who lack the
resources to cope.
Another projected consequence is spread of vector-borne diseases. As
temperatures climb, the range of disease-carrying mosquitoes will
expand towards the temperate regions and up slope to higher altitudes.
Today, nearly half the world's population is in the malaria risk zone.
Raising global temperatures 2 degrees will add 1 billion people to the
malaria risk zone, Dr. Larry Brilliant, a public health expert and
executive director of Google.org, said last year at the National
Council for Science and Environment's annual John Chafee Memorial Lecture.
In the developing world, 1.2 billion lack access to clean water and
more than twice as many lack access to proper sanitation, Brilliant
reminded his listeners. Climate change is expected to exacerbate
extremes in the hydrological cycle. Longer droughts and more intense
floods will mean more water stress and greater exposure to waterborne
If malaria and other tropical diseases seem irrelevant to richer
northern nations, consider this: Climate change threatens to combine
with other factors to raise the risk threshold for the rapid spread of
communicable diseases. Those factors include the increased speed and
volume of global commerce, movement of human settlement into cleared
wildlands that may harbor exotic microorganisms, and livestock
management practices that increase the likelihood of animal diseases -
bird flu, for example - jumping the species barrier.
Countries stressed by the impacts of climate change will be more prone
to civil unrest and violence. Last year, a report published by a panel
of retired generals and admirals called climate change a "threat
multiplier" for international conflict. One things leads to another
Health is a filter for understanding the difficult science of global
warming as an array of consequences intruding into our homes and
lives. Health is a linchpin for the interrelated challenges of
stabilizing the climate, alleviating poverty, and keeping the peace.
Comment (by Pat N), below:
People who find global warming too abstract and far removed from
everyday life aren't paying attention to what's going on. Polar bears,
reefs, more severe hurricanes, flash floods, powerful tornadoes in the
Midwest in Jan and Feb of 2008, health factors and many other points
are all compelling reasons to act.
Pasadena CA (SPX) Jan 24, 2008
Ice loss in Antarctica increased by 75 percent in the last 10 years
due to a speed-up in the flow of its glaciers ...
Boulder CO (SPX) Jan 29, 2008
A new University of Colorado at Boulder study has shown that ice caps
on the northern plateau of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic have
shrunk by more than 50 percent in the last half century as a result of
warming, and are expected to disappear by the middle of the century.
Dec. 10, 2007
The 2007 melt extent on the Greenland ice sheet broke the 2005 summer
melt record by 10 percent, making it the largest ever recorded there
since satellite measurements began in 1979,
Dec 29, 2007 article, where Dr. James Hansen, NASA scientist, said:
... "The evidence indicates we've aimed too high -- that the safe
upper limit for atmospheric CO2 is no more than 350 ppm," he said
after his presentation. Hansen has reams of paleo-climatic data to
support his statements (as do other scientists who presented papers at
the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco this
month). The last time the Earth warmed two or three degrees Celsius --
which is what 450 parts per million implies -- sea levels rose by tens
of meters, something that would shake the foundations of the human
enterprise should it happen again.
Remember This: 350 Parts Per Million
Need more evidence on rapid global warming?