Our Green Gurus

Guest bloggers share all you need to know to lead a greener lifestyle.

Science to act local

Emily--WOMAD

Emily Johnston with one of the innovative, low-cost surveillance traps she developed to test mosquitoes for Ross River virus.

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By guest-blogger Emily Johnston, a presenter at
The Planet Talks at WOMADelaide, explaining how science will take the 'think global, act local' mantra to a new level.

The scientific evidence is clear that humans are causing a shift in the Earth’s climate.

Across the world, we can expect to see increasing temperatures, altered hydrological cycles, rising sea levels and more frequent severe weather events. Some of these changes are already occurring, with serious public health outcomes; record heat waves are causing thousands of deaths each year and outbreaks of water-borne infections have been seen after floods and severe weather events.

Vector-borne diseases are projected to be significantly impacted by changing climate but predicting just how they will change is very difficult. Ross River virus, the most common vector-borne pathogen in Australia, causes an arthritic disease characterised by aching joints, fever and fatigue that lasts for weeks or months and infects about 4,000 Australians each year. The ecology of this virus is complicated: it has been isolated from at least 28 species of mosquito and can replicate in at least 17 mammal and bird host species. Even coastal and inland regions a few dozen kilometres apart may have different virus ecologies.

Climate models predict temperature, rainfall, and sea levels to change in Australia but the direction and expected level of change varies across the country. These climate changes will impact animal hosts, mosquito vectors and viral replication but since weather predictions vary regionally, so too will the expected changes to virus ecology. These cumulative effects make it difficult to predict whether Australians are likely to experience more or less vector-borne diseases in the future; the most accurate predictions will have to be made at a local scale, where virus ecology and climate predictions can be most accurately understood.

Enter the ubiquitous “think global, act local” mantra. Though climate change is the most important global problem today, approaching the problem on a local scale is the best way to make a real difference.

We can support research that develops location-specific models and risk maps to predict where and when disease outbreaks will occur. Local governments can implement virus surveillance and mosquito control programs so that we can detect outbreaks in their earliest stages and squash them, preventing human infections. Simple things like cleaning out your gutters, eliminating standing water in your yard, and making water storage tanks mosquito-proof protects your family and your neighbours from vector-borne disease.

Thinking globally about the massive problem of climate change need not stagnate us into inaction. This is true for reducing mosquito-borne disease and is also true of how our individual actions can reduce the broader progression of climate change.

Acting locally can be in the best interests of not only ourselves and our neighbours, but the cumulative effects of those small actions could create a global solution. Be part of it.

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Emily Johnston is a co-founder of Adelaide’s Science in the Pub (follow her on Twitter at @SciPubAdelaide), and one of the Uni of South Australia's top PhD students, winning the 2014 Three Minute Thesis competition for her presentation “Mosquito research: Saving lives with pantyhose and paperclips”. She will be taking part in WOMADelaide's Planet Talks from 6–9 March.

For your chance to win a double pass to WOMADelaide, along with the opportunity to meet eco-warrior Dr Vandana Shiva backstage, click here before entries close!