An unhealthy future as the climate changes

Professor Robert Maynard has chaired a panel which, under the auspices of the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency, has done some very interesting work on how climate change is likely to affect health in the future. The good news is that the warmer weather will be likely to reduce winter deaths due to hypothermia. The bad news is much more than the good news. They suggest that we in Britain will be experiencing more heat waves and this will lead to heat related deaths, rather like happened in France two years ago. Their estimate is around 3000 per heat wave, probably starting in four or five years time. Old people might want to invest in a small air conditioning unit. We could see the more dangerous species of mosquitoes migrate to British wetlands. Ticks will spread Lyme disease, a problem in the Northern parts of America and some Central European countries, but relatively unknown in Britain as yet. We can expect an increase in skin cancers.  

At the moment the panel calculates that around one and a half million people live in places at high risk to flooding and this may rise to over three million by the end of the century. The hotter weather will cause more food poisoning outbreaks and more salmonella infections, so hygiene become even more important. I would speculate that hospital spread infections like MRSA and C.diff may also increase as we get longer periods of hotter weather.

I can think of other health risks caused by rising sea levels – radiation leaks from coastal nuclear power plants. You could really get gloomy thinking about what might happen. But we do not have to be gloomy. Do not give up yet. 

We will have to adapt. We will have to change the way we live and take precautions in some areas where we now do not need to. Humans are adaptable and over the years of human existence the strength and spread of our species has been our ability to adapt to changing and differing environments. Humans live in virtually every part of the earth from the Arctic to the equatorial rain forests and we prosper and grow the numbers of our species.

But the forces of nature are stronger than us. We are a resourceful species; we can make strong sun lotions to protect us against a stronger sun. We can build flood defences and create better hygiene regimes. Provided that we have the resources we can protect ourselves against many of  the things that Professor Maynard’s report warns us about.  These things are likely to happen as the planet warms up.

If the warming is caused by human carbon dioxide emissions then we have to do more than fix the problems as they arise. We have to look further in the future than we have ever looked and we have to plan and change some fundamental rules. I wrote in my post of 7th January 2008 that Mark Z Jacobson warned of the likliehood that increased carbon emissions seem to bring additional health problems that we cannot fix with medicine or sticking plaster. 

I think that we have to move away from a society that consumes and regards growth as the panacea for all ills into a society that builds strong and safely for the future. We need to take fewer risks with our environment. The starting place will be energy, which we will have to use more carefully..

4 Responses

  1. Robert,

    Lyme disease has always been a problem here in the UK, Paul Rieter might have something to say re. your assertion about mosquitoes, MRSA is an very common infection brought into hospitals by patients (who are now tested before they have surgery, as I recently found out), C.diff and food poisoning are diseases of poor hygiene. A warming climate will not alter these facts.

    I drove into Wales today (where, as you rightfully say daffodils are now blooming, but ask some elderly neighbours when the daffodils bloomed in the 1930’s), it was a beautiful day, and one I no longer feel guilty about enjoying.

    Mark Z Jacobson’s paper on CO2 sounds interesting. where can I find a full copy of it please?



  2. I do not think Lymes is as large a problem here as it is in other places; my point about hospital infections is that hotter hospitals are harder to keep clean and a warmer climate will have an impact on this, as Prof Maynard points out. I was reporing Maynard’s views about mosquitoes; he does not predict malaria, just other nasty things.

    Don’t feel guilty about anything – it’s not your fault. The point I am making about daffodils is not to us that as evidence but simply part of an overall statistical picture which adds up to a gradually warmer climate, which might possibly start galloping away- or not.

    I emailed Prof Jacobson and he gave me this link to the paper: http://www.stanford.ed u/group/efmh/jacobson/Ve.html

  3. Are you aware that the while the Northern Hemisphere has warmed, the Southern Hemisphere has cooled? So while we here in Britain may have been enjoying a run of mild winters, it is not an indicator of the rate of ‘global’ warming.

    My point about not feeling guilty, is that I genuinely felt that I could enjoy the day without heeding the badgering of environmentalists. Who, lets face it, *do* think we should be feeling guilty about global warming. I also have concerns for the children who are being scared by AGW alarmists. This isn’t to say that I disagree with other environmental concerns, and you will be pleased to know I am a great advocate of micro-generation.

    The link you give for Prof Jacobson’s paper doesn’t work, it should be: .

    I’ve downloaded it, thanks, and will read, consult, and come back to you later (I have some 17th century costumes to make, all wool; Little Iceage 😉 ).



  4. Sue

    I’d like your source for the statement that the Southern Hemisphere is cooling. There is one respectable theory that climate change is due to the switch of magentic polarity in at the poles, which happens from time to time. I’ll do a post about it soon.

    I think your point about alarming children is well taken. It’s all about balance and being balanced does not mean you’re not concerned or that you are doing nothing.

    I think that some environemtnalists become so concerned that we are doing nothing that they do alarm the children, almost out of frustration. Everyone seems to accept behaving in an environmentally responsible way is a duty, but the worst offenders are those we elect to govern, becasue they do almost nothing.

    It does kind of get you mad.

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