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Archive for the ‘Diseases’ Category

More to Lose Than You Think When Sea Ice Is Lost

“The Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the globe in the past two decades. Sea ice in this region is melting into the ocean so rapidly that its rate exceeds most model projections. The consequences of a world with less sea ice, argue the authors of this Review, include amplification of the warming phenomenon: less sea ice means fewer surfaces to reflect sun back into the atmosphere. Thus, loss of sea ice is not just an indicator of warming, but a contributor to it as well.

Read more about this research from the 2 August issue of Science here.”


Climate change exposes more tropical diseases

September 30, 2010 – Original Source: The New Nation, Bangladesh

Public health professionals from a number of countries assembled in capital Dhaka to discuss the magnitude of health problems posed by climate change and give future directions to face climate-induced health challenges.

More than 200 professionals from France, India, Indonesia, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Switzerland and host Bangladesh started dialogue today as the two-day conference kicked off in the city on Wednesday morning.

Prof Dr Moazzem Hossain, director of the communicable disease control of Directorate General of Health Services and the key host of the event, said neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) such as filariasis, snake bite, kala’azar, and rabies were discussed on the first day of the programme.

Prime Minister’s Adviser on Establishment HT Imam spoke as the chief guest while Prime Minister’s Adviser on Health Prof Dr Syed Modasser Ali inaugurated the event, hosted by government’s Communicable Disease Control department of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).

Dr Moazzem said the impacts of climate change on health is evident in sub-tropical Bangladesh as higher temperatures, frequent extreme weather events and sea level rise have already battered people’s lives in the country.

He said records show that the average summer temperature has risen over the years, exposing the country to tropical diseases such malaria, filariasis, dengue, helminthiasis, snake bites, rabies and several other neglected diseases.

He said a Dhaka declaration would be adopted from the conference, second of its kind, with specific programmes and suggestions to thwart the health challenges across the world, especially in poor countries.

He also said the neglected tropical diseases require more attention both from the government and the donor communities as the extent of such diseases has spread to much of the areas of the country.

Conservative studies show that Bangladesh is to lose between 17,000 and 22,000 square kilometers of land due to a sea level rise of 1-1.5 meter by 2050. The health impacts from climate change would be far-reaching in the country, with more people suffering from water-borne and vector-borne diseases.

The successes over the diseases such as malaria, filariasis, diarrhoea, cholera and dengue might be in jeopardy in near future due to climate change, organizers of the conference said, adding climate change has already posed a serious threat to the progress made in the health-related millennium development goals.

HT Imam said climate change has become a major concern of the country and the present government has been taking pragmatic steps in line with the changed situation of the globe.

He said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has raised her voice in the last conference of parties (COP-15) in Denmark and has again raised Bangladesh’s concern over global warming in the just- concluded UN General Assembly (UNGA).

Syed Modasser Ali said the potential impact of global warming on the transmission of NTDs did not get due attention from researchers over decades, although the evidence shows that epidemic potential for such diseases might increase by 12-27 percent as a direct consequence of higher temperature.

Director General of DGHA Prof Dr Shah Munir Hossain chaired the inaugural session, where Prof Kazuhiko Moji presented the keynote paper and chairman of Bangladesh Medical Research Council Prof Mahmud Hasan spoke as the special guest.

An illustrated guide to the latest climate science

February 17, 2010 – Original Source: Climate Progress

Here is an update of review of the best papers on climate science in the past year.  If you want a broader overview of the literature in the past few years, focusing specifically on how unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gas emissions are projected to impact the United States, try “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water.”

I’m adding some of the best figures from those papers, too.  For those who like their science delivered through videos, let me suggest the panel I hosted earlier this month, may I suggest Video and PPTs of “The Science of Climate Change” with Dr. Christopher Field and Dr. Michael MacCracken (which is the source of the above figure showing the decadal temperature trend, together with the annual temps).

In 2009, the scientific literature caught up with what top climate scientists have been saying privately for a few years now:

  • Many of the predicted impacts of human-caused climate change are occurring much faster than anybody expected — particularly ice melt, everywhere you look on the planet.
  • If we stay anywhere near our current emissions path, we are facing incalculable catastrophes by century’s end, including rapid sea level rise, massive wildfires, widespread Dust-Bowlification, large oceanic dead zones, and 9°F warming — much of which could be all but irreversible for centuries. And that’s not the worst-case scenario!
  • The consequences for human health and well being would be extreme.

That’s no surprise to anybody who has talked to leading climate scientists in recent years, read my book Hell and High Water (or a number of other books), or followed this blog. Still, it is a scientific reality that I don’t think more than 2 people in 100 fully grasp, so I’m going to review here the past year in climate science. I’ll focus primarily on the peer-reviewed literature, but also look at some major summary reports.

Let’s start with the basics. Heat-trapping greenhouse gases are at unprecedented levels, and the paleoclimate record suggests that even slightly higher levels are untenable:

Since we have record levels of heat-trapping gases, it’s not surprising that we also learned that this was the hottest decade in the temperature record and that the Arctic is the hottest in at least two millenia.

A Hockey Stick in Melting Ice

In two key papers, we learned that the planet is warming from those GHGs just where climate science said it would — the oceans, which is where more than 90% of the warming was projected to end up (see “Skeptical Science explains how we know global warming is happening.“). The key findings in the second study are summed up in this figure:

Figure [2]: Time series of global mean heat storage (0–2000 m), measured in 108 Jm-2.

That study makes clear that upper ocean heat content, perhaps not surprisingly, is simply far more variable than deeper ocean heat content, and thus an imperfect indicator of the long-term warming trend.

Unexpectedly, even Antarctica appears to be warming:

This global warming is driving melting at extraordinary rates every where we look, including places nobody expected:

And given that unexpectedly fast ice melt, it’s no surprise the science now projects much higher and much faster sea level rise than just a few years ago:

We continued to learn about the dangerous positive carbon-cycle feedbacks that threaten to amplify the impacts of human-caused GHGs.

Indeed, the best evidence is that the climate is now being driven by amplifying feedbacks (see, most notably:

Using the first “fully interactive climate system model” applied to study permafrost, the researchers found that if we tried to stabilize CO2 concentrations in the air at 550 ppm, permafrost would plummet from over 4 million square miles today to 1.5 million. If concentrations hit 690 ppm, permafrost would shrink to just 800,000 square miles:

High emissions levels + positive feedbacks = climate catastrophe:

This graph shows the percentage increase in area burned by wildfires, from the present-day to the 2050s, as calculated by the model of Spracklen et al. [2009] for the May-October fire season. The model follows a scenario of moderately increasing emissions of greenhouse gas emissions and leads to average global warming of 1.6 degrees Celsius (3 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050. Warmer temperatures can dry out underbrush, leading to more serious conflagrations in the future climate.”

And the plausible worst-case scenario is even worse than this grim “business as usual” emissions case:

This is the “plausible worst case scenario” for 2060 from the UK Met Office that occurs in 10% of model runs of high emissions with the carbon cycle feedbacks [temperature in degrees Celsius, multiple by 1.8 for Fahrenheit]:

And this is not good news for human health and welfare

So the time to act is most certainly now.

I’ll end with the best piece of scientific news I wrote about, which suggests it is not too damn late to act — a NOAA-led study, “Observational constraints on recent increases in the atmospheric CH4 burden” (subs. req’d, NOAA online news story here), which found:

Measurements of atmospheric CH4 from air samples collected weekly at 46 remote surface sites show that, after a decade of near-zero growth, globally averaged atmospheric methane increased during 2007 and 2008. During 2007, CH4 increased by 8.3 ± 0.6 ppb. CH4 mole fractions averaged over polar northern latitudes and the Southern Hemisphere increased more than other zonally averaged regions. In 2008, globally averaged CH4 increased by 4.4 ± 0.6 ppb; the largest increase was in the tropics, while polar northern latitudes did not increase. Satellite and in situ CO observations suggest only a minor contribution to increased CH4 from biomass burning. The most likely drivers of the CH4 anomalies observed during 2007 and 2008 are anomalously high temperatures in the Arctic and greater than average precipitation in the tropics. Near-zero CH4 growth in the Arctic during 2008 suggests we have not yet activated strong climate feedbacks from permafrost and CH4 hydrates.


Yes, early this year I reported that NOAA found “Methane levels rose in 2008 for the second consecutive year after a 10-year lull,” but so far that most dangerous of all feedbacks — Arctic and tundra methane releases — does not appear to have been fatally triggered.

The anti-science crowd use smoke and mirrors to distract as many people as possible, but the rest of us need to listen to the science and keep our eyes on the prize — reversing greenhouse gas emissions trends as quickly and rapidly as possible.

Climate change increasing malaria risk, research reveals

December 31, 2009 – Original Source: Guardian, UK

UK-funded research shows climate change has caused a seven-fold increase in cases of malaria on the slopes of Mount Kenya.

Rising temperatures on the slopes of Mount Kenya have put an extra 4 million people at risk of malaria, research funded by the UK government warned today.

Climate change has raised average temperatures in the Central Highlands region of Kenya, allowing the disease to creep into higher altitude areas where the population has little or no immunity.

The findings by a research team funded by the UK Department for International Development (DfID), showed that seven times more people are contracting the disease in outbreaks in the region than 10 years ago.

The team from the Kenyan Medical Research Institute (Kemri) said that while similar outbreaks elsewhere have been attributed to multiple factors including drug resistance and changes in land use, the only change on Mount Kenya is a rise in temperature.

The average temperature in the Central Highlands was 17C in 1989, with malaria completely absent from the region. This is because the parasite which causes malaria can only mature above 18C.

But with temperatures today averaging 19C, mosquitos are carrying the disease into high altitude areas and epidemics have begun to break out among humans.

Kemri is using climate models to predict when epidemics might occur up to three months in advance, giving authorities time to stock up on medicine and warn the public of the dangers.

The institute is also using church meetings and local health clinics to educate people in high-altitude areas on how climate change could be leading to the spread of malaria into their area.

In the west Kenyan highlands, where malaria has been present since the late 1980s, programmes have been providing mosquito nets for people to sleep under – with DfID providing 14m bed nets since 2001.

But because malaria is a relatively new phenomenon, less than half of those who own bed nets use them, DfID said.

In areas where researchers have been encouraging people to use them the incidence of malaria has dropped markedly and epidemics have been all but eradicated.

The international development secretary, Douglas Alexander, said: "The spread of malaria in the Mount Kenya region is a worrying sign of things to come.

"Without strong and urgent action to tackle climate change, malaria could infect areas without any experience of the disease.

"That’s why we need to make sure vulnerable, developing nations such as Kenya have the support they need to tackle the potentially devastating impacts of climate change."

Pests on move worldwide as climate warms

November 16, 2009 – Original Source: Associated Press

A look at some other pests that are benefiting or could benefit from global warming:

– Ticks that transmit Lyme disease are spreading northward into Sweden and Canada, once too cold for them.

– Giant Humboldt squid have reached waters as far north as British Columbia, threatening fisheries along much of the western North American coast.

– Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are now found in South Korea, the Papua New Guinea highlands, and other places previously not warm enough for them.

– Bark beetles reproducing more quickly in warming climates and expanding their ranges have devastated forests across western North America. In British Columbia they have laid waste to an area twice the size of Ireland.

– A microscopic parasite is spreading a deadly disease among salmon in Alaska and British Columbia. Researchers say rising water temperatures are partly to blame.

– The U.S. government warns that such invasive plants as the common reed, hyacinth and purple loosestrife are likely to spread to northern states.

Health impact of weather change ‘could eclipse all pandemics’

November 5, 2009 – Original Source: Irish Times

THE SEVERE health impacts of climate change would “eclipse all known pandemics in the 21st century”, it was claimed yesterday, with even a one degree Celsius rise in average temperatures causing a six-fold increase in mortality among respiratory patients.

As shown by some 10,000 premature deaths in France alone during a heatwave in 2003, “all of the known or predicted impacts of climate change are going to lead to severe health impacts”, according to Josh Karliner, of the Health Care Without Harm network.

“It is impossible to have healthy people on a sick planet”, he said at a joint launch with the Health and Environment Alliance (Heal) of their Prescription for a Healthy Planet, which calls for a “strong, binding treaty in Copenhagen that promotes a healthy climate”.

The World Heath Organisation (WHO) has thrown its weight behind this campaign to persuade governments that there would be “positive benefits”, particularly in terms of people’s health, if they agreed to make deep cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The WHO’s leading climate expert, Dr Roberto Bertolini, said this would inevitably involve people having to change their behaviour in ways that would benefit their health – “such as reduced use of cars, eating less red meat, and many other examples”.

But he complained that public health “doesn’t come up as strongly as it should in the [climate change] negotiations. By saying there are not only negative considerations or gloomy messages, but also positive benefits, we think it will increase public support”.

Génon Jensen, of Brussels-based Heal, said it was seeking to “mobilise health community to row in behind environmental policies”. In particular, Heal wanted to see health ministers engaged in the climate change issue “because they will have to deal with the mess”.

Mr Karliner, who is based in Washington, said hundreds of doctors and other health professionals in the US had written to President Barack Obama yesterday to “raise a warning about the health impacts of climate change”.

Earth becoming a disease hot spot

August 22, 2009 – Original Source: New Straits Times, Malaysia, by Evangeline Majawat

KUALA LUMPUR: The warming earth is making us sick.

Rising temperatures, frequent floods and prolonged droughts are ideal conditions for infectious diseases to spread.

“Global warming is fuelling epidemics in areas which are unprepared. We’re seeing the emergence of new diseases around the world. Old diseases are also coming back with a vengeance,” warned Malaysian Society of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine president Dr S. Vellayan.

He said it was believed that infectious diseases thrived in the tropics because of the constant warm and wet weather, but climate change was dramatically changing infection trends.

He said disease-carrying animals and insects were breeding rapidly and causing outbreaks in new areas because of suitable conditions.

“Vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, snails and rats are expanding into new regions, bringing with them the threat of tropical diseases.”

The World Health Organisation reported in 2005 that “rainfall can influence the transport and dissemination of infectious agents while temperature affects their growth and survival”.

“Extreme cold during the winter would usually kill tropical disease pathogens. Not anymore,” Dr Vellayan said.

He said the obvious example was malaria. The same WHO report found that heavy rainfall and high humidity was a major influence to periodic malaria epidemics.

The report also noted that “the malaria epidemic risk increased around five-fold in the year after an El Nino event”.

Dr Vellayan said the destruction of forests was also another factor.

“Habitat destruction causes human-animal conflicts. This means we come into contact with animals that carry diseases.”

He said outbreaks of “simian malaria” in Sabah and Sarawak were rising as forests were cleared.

“Pathogens are jumping from species to species via direct contact, faeces, urine or body fluids. This was what happened with the nipah virus.”

But Dr Vellayan said it was too early to say how climate change would affect the influenza A (H1N1) virus.

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