Maybe it’s the shock of “Super-Storm Sandy” flooding subway tunnels in New York City, or that we had the hottest summer on record and the worst crop-scorching drought (ongoing) in decades, or just that the election-induced moratorium on serious discussion is finally broken. But all of a sudden, it seems, climate change and its many health perils are back in the headlines.
The latest news is a report by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, prepared for the World Bank and published last week. The report covers a good deal of ground related to what many now consider a likely (not possible, but likely) 4-degree Celsius warming of the planet. All of it is frightening to contemplate, but here we just focus here on some (far from all) of the projected health consequences:
- A dramatic drop in crop yields and fish species will cause hunger, malnutrition and starvation on a global scale, disproportionately impacting the young and the old.
- Rates of malaria, dengue fever and cholera, among other “tropical” diseases, will skyrocket, just as mass migration forced by the abandonment of coastal areas and islands (due to ocean level rise) will expose tens of millions to contagion.
- Rain forests, coral reefs, and other havens of biodiversity – essential to sustaining complex and extensive food chains – will decline and eventually die off entirely.
- Potable water supplies will be depleted.
- Once-rare monster storms will become commonplace, putting unprecedented stress on the capacity of emergency response and public health systems.
One might go on at some apocalyptic length, but that should be enough to outline the distressingly grim picture.
So, aside from getting incredibly nervous, what can we do to minimize the negative health effects of climate change? First and foremost, it would seem, we should hit the brakes with both feet – “When you discover that you’ve dug yourself into a hole, stop digging!” That means a truly radical reduction in the continuing contribution of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which means, in turn, a radical reduction in the consumption of fossil fuels – a dramatic behavioral shift that neither producers (the incredibly rich and powerful fossil fuels industry) nor consumers (we who love to zip around at will in personal vehicles powered by cheap gas) like to think about seriously.
But denial is a psychic luxury we can no longer afford physically.