Health Benefits From Warming

Pim Martens has written that while the overall impact of global warming on human health is expected to be markedly negative, human beings may experience a few positive outcomes. Some diseases that thrive in cold weather (such as influenza) may find their ranges and effects reduced in a warmer world. The elderly might die less frequently of cardiovascular and pulmonary ailments (heart diseases) that peak during cold weather. "Whether the milder winters could offset the mortality during the summer heat waves is one of the questions that demands further research," Martens wrote (Martens, 1999, 535).

Countering the views of Epstein and others, some health researchers contend that global warming will do little to increase incidence of tropical diseases. "For mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, yellow fever, and malaria, the assumption that warming will foster the spread of the vector is simplistic," contended Bob Zimmerman, an entomologist with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Zimmerman pointed out that in the Amazon basin, more than 20 species of Anopheles mosquitoes can transmit malaria, and each is adapted to a different habitat. He said, "All of these are going to be impacted by rainfall, temperature, and humidity in different ways. There could actually be decreases in malaria in certain regions, depending on what happens" (Taubes, 1997). Virologist Barry Beaty of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, agreed with Zimmerman. 'You don't have to be a rocket scientist to say we've got a problem," he says. "But global warming is not the current problem. It is a collapse in public-health measures, an increase in drug resistance in parasites, and an increase in pesticide resistance in vector populations. Mosquitoes and parasites are efficiently exploiting these problems" (Taubes, 1997).

While many health experts maintain that tropical diseases will spread with rising temperatures, a minority (one of whom is Bjorn Lom-borg, the Danish "skeptical environmentalist") points to the fact that malaria once was endemic in Europe and the United States as recently as the nineteenth century, before medications and public health measures eradicated it. Therefore, asserts Lomborg, the spread of malaria is not a climatic issue but a matter of public health (Lomborg, 2007).

Countering the majority view that a warmer world will spread malaria, David J. Rogers and Sarah E. Randolph, using their own models, wrote in Science that even extreme rises in temperature would not spread the disease. They argued that the spread of malaria was too poorly understood to base a forecast several decades into the future on temperature as a singular variable. For example, the "Dengie Marshes" of Essex, in England, a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the seventeenth century, have dried up, making an increase in temperatures not a factor vis-a-vis malaria's spread. Malaria is not a new disease in the temperate zones. It was common in the Roman Empire. A British invasion of Holland in 1806 failed to drive out French troops because large numbers of the British soldiers became ill with malaria. Malaria was a public health problem in most of the Eastern United States during warm, humid summers before medications were developed for it about a century ago.

Paul Reiter, a dengue fever expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Puerto Rico office, argued against the relative importance of climate in human disease by pointing to periods in the past during which malaria and other tropical diseases were more common than today in cooler regions. He argued that the spread of malaria was more closely linked to deforestation, agricultural practices, human migration, poor public health services, civil war, strife, and natural disasters. "Claims that malaria resurgence is due to climate change ignore these realities and disregard history," he wrote in an article about malaria's spread through England during the Little Ice Age, which began about

1450 and lasted for several hundred years, during a climate that was cooler than today's (McFarling, 2002, A-7).

S. I. Hay and colleagues investigated long-term meteorological trends in four high altitude sites in East Africa where increases in malaria had been reported during the past two decades. "Here we show that temperature, rainfall, vapor pressure, and the number of months suitable for Plasmodium. falciparum transmission have not changed significantly during the past century or during the period of reported malaria resurgence." Therefore, they find that associations between resurgence of malaria and climate change at high altitudes in these areas "are overly simplistic" (Hay et al., 2002, 905).

Was this article helpful?

0 0
The Basic Survival Guide

The Basic Survival Guide

Disasters: Why No ones Really 100 Safe. This is common knowledgethat disaster is everywhere. Its in the streets, its inside your campuses, and it can even be found inside your home. The question is not whether we are safe because no one is really THAT secure anymore but whether we can do something to lessen the odds of ever becoming a victim.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment