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The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

Global warming & disease

global-warming-disease

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Climate change is a health hazard. More Australians face dying in heatwaves and they have a greater risk of catching infectious diseases as a result of global warming. Rising temperatures, more natural disasters and changing rainfall patterns will affect people's health as much as the environment.

And with scientists now warning that we’re in for a surge in heat waves in the summers ahead, we can expect a rise in heart attacks, strokes, accidents and heat exhaustion. Doctors already say they are getting more cases of people coming in with asthma, heat stroke and exhaustion.

According to a medical news bulletin, new research out of the Harvard School of Public Health has revealed that even small shifts in temperature, as low as one degree centigrade, could shorten life expectancy for elderly people with chronic medical conditions, and could result in thousands of additional deaths each year. It is the first study ever done of the long term impact of climate change on health. Elderly people with diabetes, heart trouble and chronic lung disease are the most vulnerable to even slight shifts in temperature.

What makes it more complicated is the ageing of the population. According to the United Nations, there were 205 million people aged 60 or over in 1950. By 2050, this figure will increase to nearly two billion. More older people in the population means we can expect to see more heart attacks, strokes, and accidents. Think of the impact that has on hospitals and doctors. Greater variability in the weather will only exacerbate that.

At the same time, the health issues could extend beyond the elderly. In its report, the Climate Commission finds that the ones most at risk also include the young, those with chronic disease, those in lower socio-economic groups and Indigenous communities.

The Yale Daily News reports that global warming might also intensify the prevalence of diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

“The environmental changes wrought by global warming will undoubtedly result in major ecologic changes that will alter patterns and intensity of some infectious diseases,’ said Gerald Friedland, professor of medicine and epidemiology and public health at the Yale School of Medicine. Global warming will likely cause major population upheavals, creating crowded slums of refugees, Friedland said. Not only do areas of high population density facilitate disease transmission, but their residents are more likely to be vulnerable to disease because of malnutrition and poverty, he said. This pattern of vulnerability holds for both tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, increasing the incidence of both the acquisition and spread of the diseases, he explained. He said these potential effects are not surprising, since tuberculosis epidemics historically have followed major population and environmental upheavals. By contrast, global warming may increase the infection rates of mosquito-borne diseases by creating a more mosquito-friendly habitat. Warming, and the floods associated with it, are like to increase rates of both malaria and dengue, a debilitating viral disease found in tropical areas and transmitted by mosquito bites, said Maria Diuk-Wasser, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health.”

Reducing emissions is the most obvious way to address the problem. But a warming world will also require more spending and more infrastructure for public health.