Thursday, 26 August 2010

Effect of climate change on human morbidity and mortality and sea levels
Climate change has been resulting in quite a many detrimental manifestations which tend to have a domino effect: fluctuations in temperature and precipitation (resulting in climate variability), as well as extreme manifestations such as drought, storms, rise in sea levels, and frequent severe weather events.

Consider the research by Grinsted et al (2009) who used a ‘physically plausible four parameter linear response equation’ to relate nearly 2,000 years of global temperatures and sea level. Assuming that this relationship holds from 200 to 2100 AD, IPCC’s temperature scenarios and reconstructed past sea level scenarios were used to visualise future sea level scenarios. The result suggests that climate change will lead to a 0.9-1.3 m change in sea level between 2090-2099. This bodes a certain flooding of low lying coastal regions and islands. Island countries such as Maldives would practically cease to exist. Whilst countries such as Bangladesh may not face such obliteration, such a sea level rise would flood 1/3rd of the country, displacing millions of humans and severely affecting agriculture, irrigation, and livestock.

Climate change also has a perceptible impact on human morbidity and mortality (Patz et al, 2005). Climate fluctuations have been linked to diseases and ailments- the evident effects of heat/cold (which, for instance, follows a U-shaped dose-response function with increased mortality in the extreme heat and cold), traumatic physical and mental ailments, and even cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. This even results in altered transmission of infectious diseases (for instance, changes in temperature has been associated with salmonellosis in Europe and cholera in the ‘American south-west’; whilst, changes in rainfall has been associated with Rift valley fever in East Africa, and Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome and cholera in the American south-west and Bangladesh). When one factors in the effects of climate change on air pollution and the greater ecosystem, the result is quite chaotic. If the future projections of climate change are plausible, then it is likely that these health risks may rise significantly. The ‘potentially vulnerable’ regions includes the temperate latitudes (which may warm disproportionately), and the regions in and around the Pacific and Indian oceans (substantial rainfall variability).

But even though the economic North/developed countries are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions, the damaging effects of their actions are most perceived in the poor countries of the South which has (as of yet) contributed least towards the GHG emissions.

Patz, J., Campbell-Lendrum, D., Holloway, T., & Foley, J. (2005). Impact of regional climate change on human health Nature, 438 (7066), 310-317 DOI: 10.1038/nature04188

Grinsted, A., Moore, J., & Jevrejeva, S. (2009). Reconstructing sea level from paleo and projected temperatures 200 to 2100 ad Climate Dynamics, 34 (4), 461-472 DOI: 10.1007/s00382-008-0507-2

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