DISCLAIMER: The views published below, do not necessarily reflect the views of Dr. Synthia and Colin Andrews
WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
Climate and health Fact sheet, July 2005
From the tropics to the arctic, both climate and weather have powerful impacts, both direct and indirect, on human life. While people adapt to the conditions in which they live, and human physiology can handle substantial variation in weather, there are limits.
Marked short-term fluctuations in weather can cause acute adverse health effects:
Extremes of both heat and cold can cause potentially fatal illnesses, e.g. heat stress or hypothermia, as well as increasing death rates from heart and respiratory diseases. In cities, stagnant weather conditions can trap both warm air and air pollutants -- leading to smog episodes with significant health impacts. These effects can be significant. Abnormally high temperatures in Europe in the summer of 2003 were associated with at least 27,000 more deaths than the equivalent period in previous years.
Other weather extremes, such as heavy rains, floods, and hurricanes, also have severe impacts on health. Approximately 600,000 deaths occurred world-wide as a result of weather-related natural disasters in the 1990s; and some 95% of these were in poor countries. Some examples:
In October 1999, a cyclone in Orissa, India, caused 10,000 deaths. The total number of people affected was estimated at 10-15 million; In December 1999, floods in and around Caracas, Venezuela, killed approximately 30,000 people, many in shanty towns on exposed slopes.
In addition to changing weather patterns, climatic conditions affect diseases transmitted through water, and via vectors such as mosquitoes. Climate-sensitive diseases are among the largest global killers. Diarrhoea, malaria and protein-energy malnutrition alone caused more than 3.3 million deaths globally in 2002, with 29 % of these deaths occurring in the Region of Africa.
THE SETTING: GLOBAL WARMING
About two thirds of solar energy reaching Earth is absorbed by, and heats, the Earth's surface. The heat radiates back to the atmosphere, where some of it is trapped by greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. Without this 'greenhouse effect' the average surface temperature would make the planet uninhabitable for human populations.
Human activities, particularly burning of fossil fuels, have released over the last 50 years, sufficient quantities of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to affect the global climate. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by more than 30% since pre- industrial times, trapping more heat in the lower atmosphere.
According to the Third Assessment Report (2001) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), some effects include:
The global average surface temperature has increased by 0.6° + 0.2° C over the last century; Globally, 1998 was the warmest year and the 1990s was the warmest decade on record; Many areas have experienced increases in rainfall, particularly mid to high latitude countries; In some regions, such as parts of Asia and Africa, the frequency and intensity of droughts have increased in recent decades; Episodes of El Niño have been more frequent, persistent and intense since the mid-1970s compared with the previous 100 years.
Global emissions of carbon dioxide are still increasing. Estimates of future population growth and energy use are used as inputs to global climate models, in order to project future climate change. Reviewing outputs from a range of such models, the IPCC has made the following predictions for the next century:
Global mean surface temperature will rise by 1.4°-5.8° C. Warming will be greatest over land areas, and at high latitudes; The projected rate of warming is greater than anything humans have experienced in the last 10,000 years; The frequency of weather extremes is likely to change leading to an increased risk of floods and drought. There will be fewer cold spells but more heat waves; The frequency and intensity of El Niño may be affected; Global mean sea level is projected to rise by 9--88 cm by the year 2100.
Many countries are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Unfortunately, current international agreements are not sufficient to prevent the world facing significant changes in climate and a rise in sea levels.
THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON HEALTH
To a large extent, public health depends on safe drinking water, sufficient food, secure shelter, and good social conditions. A changing climate is likely to affect all of these conditions. Reviews of the likely impacts of climate change by the IPCC suggest that a warming climate is likely to bring some localized benefits, such as decreased winter deaths in temperate climates, and increases in food production in some, particularly high latitude, regions. Public health services and high living standards would protect some populations from specific impacts; for example it is unlikely that climate change would cause malaria to become re-established in northern Europe or North America. Overall, however, the health effects of a rapidly changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative, particularly in the poorest communities, which have contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions. Some of the health effects include:
Increasing frequencies of heatwaves: recent analyses show that human-induced climate change significantly increased the likelihood of the European summer heatwave of 2003. More variable precipitation patterns are likely to compromise the supply of freshwater, increasing risks of water-borne disease. Rising temperatures and variable precipitation are likely to decrease the production of staple foods in many of the poorest regions, increasing risks of malnutrition. Rising sea levels increase the risk of coastal flooding, and may necessitate population displacement. More than half of the world's population now lives within 60km of the sea. Some of the most vulnerable regions are the Nile delta in Egypt, the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta in Bangladesh, and many small islands, such as the Maldives, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu. Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases, and to alter their geographic range, potentially bringing them to regions which lack either population immunity or a strong public health infrastructure.
Measurement of health effects from climate change can only be very approximate. Nevertheless, a WHO quantitative assessment, taking into account only a subset of the possible health impacts, concluded that the effects of the climate change that has occurred since the mid-1970s may have caused over 150,000 deaths in 2000. It also concluded that these impacts are likely to increase in the future.
WHO co-ordinates reviews of the scientific evidence on the links between climate, climate change and health, including supporting the IPCC assessment process. Based on these assessments, WHO considers that rapid climate change poses substantial risks to human health, particularly among the poorest populations. The organization therefore supports actions to reduce human influence on the global climate.
Carefully planned mitigation policies can also bring direct health benefits. For example, well- designed urban transport systems can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while simultaneously reducing the major health impacts of urban air pollution and physical inactivity. Housing with efficient insulation can cut energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions, reduce deaths from both cold and heat, and in poor countries, reduce the need for burning of biomass fuels and the impacts of indoor air pollution.
WHO also recognizes that, given past emissions of greenhouse gases, the world will continue to be faced with a warming and more variable climate for at least several decades. WHO's work in supporting programmes to combat infectious disease, improve water and sanitation services and respond to natural disasters helps to reduce health vulnerability to future climate change. The organization also works directly to build capacity to adapt to climate change. This includes workshops in the most vulnerable countries to raise awareness of the health implications of climate change and related weather patterns, and to support intersectoral policies to reduce health vulnerability now. Such activities aim at improving health conditions today, while simultaneously laying the ground for more adaptation measures to climate change in the future.
(1) This figure is based only on data from selected cities across Europe; it will be revised as more complete and comparable data from across Europe becomes available.
VARIOUS CONDITIONS TO DEBATE INCLUDING AIR POLLUTION IN CHINA By Colin Andrews
There are various considerations when assessing the condition of human health in the future: Change of climate, i.e. Temperature, consequences of severe storms, shifting weather patterns over long periods.
There is air pollution. Water quality and shortages. The spread of diseases out of their normal habits to new warmer environs across the globe.
The spread of disease by animals and birds also on the move to new locations, in search of conditions to survive. There are others to but we will get back to those later.
Lets for a moment take a look at one very worrying source of poor air quality and the exporting of these conditions to places far away. The source for the purposes of this debate today is China. Read on - This article published by 'Whiskey & Gunpowder.. .........................................................................................................................
Now that the 2008 Beijing Olympics have come and gone, the subject of China's pollution problems has recently garnered a great deal of attention. Clearly, China has a problem with its air and water pollution. Something must be done, but before a real solution can be instituted, we must first understand the causes. Here is a list of the 10 most important causes of Chinese pollution.
China Pollution Cause #10: Price Fixing of Chinese Gasoline Costs As China shifts from its traditional communist economic system to a more market-based approach, prices for almost all goods and services have been released by the government and allowed to float freely in the market. One of the few exceptions to this fundamental change has been the price of fuel. The Chinese government still puts ceilings on the price of gasoline, and the price recently rose for only the first time since May 2006. Not only does the government regulate the price, but it also penalizes anyone who sells gasoline above the ceiling. This artificially cheap gasoline is promoting its use at the very time when consumption should be curbed. World oil prices have reached record levels everywhere else, yet the one country that is just beginning to consume gasoline and oil at an incredible rate is still buying it for prices Americans haven’t seen since the turn of this century.
China Pollution Cause #9: The Shipping of Chinese Merchandise As China continues producing and exporting more and more goods, more and more ships are needed to transport all that cargo. Currently, 90% of the world’s merchandise travels across oceans. The world’s — especially the U.S.’ — appetite for imported goods from China has shown no sign of weakening. There is still no universal standard for the fuel being used by these ships, which tends to typically be quite cheap and dirty. If a universal standard could somehow be adopted, the consistent rise in shipping demand would counterbalance any improvements made by tougher standards. While this pollution problem is not solely limited to China, the majority of the situation is certainly born there.
China Pollution Cause #8: Natural Aerosols Natural and man-made aerosols reaching the atmosphere are never a good thing for the climate. Brought on by everything from volcano eruptions to desert winds, aerosol particles reaching the atmosphere can play havoc with the temperatures and weather patterns of surrounding areas. China, as well as other Asian countries, has this problem worse than other countries around the globe. Because of the vast deserts of Asia, strong winds carry silt and other particles into the atmosphere and the particles collect over the Pacific Ocean. For China specifically, recent deforestation that came about as the economy grew has also produced a more-than-ideal amount of aerosol particles.
China Pollution Cause #7: We Can’t Stop Buying Their Products One of the biggest reasons for China’s recent economic surge has been the availability of labor and the willingness to produce all the products that we in the West use every day. China recently passed the United States as the largest emitter of carbon in the world, and that could be due to the fact that nearly everything we use these days is being made in China. If your cell phone, iPod, and children’s toys are all being produced in China, why would the United States have to pollute at all? We’ve passed our pollution to China, and China’s passed its products right back.
China Pollution Cause #6: White Pollution Like those in many other industrialized nations, Chinese shoppers are used to carrying flimsy petroleum-based plastic bags from grocery stores and markets. Given the magnitude of China’s population, these bags have become an environmental nuisance. Not only has the sheer number of discarded plastic bags become a civic eyesore and a pollution product for many lakes and streams, but the bags are also using up precious resources. Their production uses the limited amount of petroleum the country has. Recently, the government banned the use of these bags in an effort to clean up cities in preparation for the Beijing Olympic Games.
China Pollution Cause #5: The Link Between the Chinese Yuan and the U.S. Dollar Over the past several months, the value of the U.S. dollar has begun to drop. Inflation appears to be on the rise as the prices of houses are falling. The U.S. dollar has entered a dire period and it’s taking the Chinese yuan right along for the ride. This has little impact on the Chinese themselves, but for the millions of Asians from neighboring countries that travel through China, this is having a huge effect. Chinese fuel, which we’ve already learned is fixed at a low price, is also priced in American dollars. This means that if a Thai businessman is traveling to Beijing, he can fuel his car for much cheaper than anyone else if he is paying in the Thai currency, the baht. The baht has never been higher compared with the dollar as it is right now.
China Pollution Cause #4: Rising Oil Prices While gasoline prices for consumers remain fixed in China, the fuel being used by the factories that produce all the products is still being purchased at market prices. As the prices of oil and electricity continue to rise, Chinese industrial plants have no choice but to turn to the cheaper, yet much more environmentally harmful, coal. The demand for Chinese- produced goods will be too much for Chinese factories to switch back to oil. The byproducts of the coal-burning plants add much more air pollution than you would see from another form of energy.
China Pollution Cause #3: Changing Transportation Needs The industrial revolution in China over the past several years has been nothing short of extraordinary. The economy that was once light-years behind the West has now joined us, and joined with vigor. As millions of rural citizens begin living and working in much more modern conditions, the environment is struggling to welcome them. Many Chinese who once simply worked in agriculture and used primitive forms of transportation are now commuting to the cities and metropolitan areas. This just adds to the growing problem.
China Pollution Cause #2: A Lack of Governmental Control It seems odd, but while the Chinese government has historically controlled everything, the one thing it has not been good at controlling has been the country’s own pollution problem. Factories and companies are fined a small amount for their water and air pollution, but many companies find it cheaper to continue polluting and pay the fine, rather than make significant changes to their production. Recently, the government has considered using a much more capitalistic approach. Soon it may be instituting the kind of cap and trade system that we have been exploring in the U.S. Under that system, companies would receive pollution credits that they could trade with other companies. If a company wanted to continue polluting, they would simply need to buy enough credits.
China Pollution Cause #1: China Simply Grew Too Fast
As the Chinese economy opened and the Chinese way of life became increasingly more modern, the citizens and businesses in the country rushed to experience modern life. Factories and skyscrapers appeared nearly instantly, while millions of bicyclists began driving their first automobiles. The incredible new levels of productivity meant that more people than ever could now afford to pollute just like the rest of the industrialized nations of the world. Now the country with the largest population is able to affect the environment just as we do, and it is using its record numbers of people to add record levels of pollution.
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P.S. While it seems daunting, the Chinese pollution problem is solvable. The costs and harmful byproducts of our current forms of energy have only gotten worse. Luckily, some governments are starting to focus on cleaning up the environment using cheaper, renewable resources. This report illustrates the exciting new developments happening right now. Plus you won’t have to go to the other side of the world to find them. To access your report.