Thursday, May 28, 2009

Malaria's range is expanding as the world warms; also

I just got back from El Salvador, where those who can afford it take powerful, dangerous medications every six months to get rid of parasites. Everything grows better in the tropics--including all manner of creepy, crawling things, some of which are very hard to get rid of. I also saw an out-of-control wild fire in the pine hills near Pequin.

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
Climate health costs: bug-borne ills, killer heat

May 28, 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tree-munching beetles, malaria-carrying mosquitoes and deer ticks that spread Lyme disease are three living signs that climate change is likely to exact a heavy toll on human health.

These pests and others are expanding their ranges in a warming world, which means people who never had to worry about them will have to start. And they are hardly the only health threats from global warming.

The Lancet medical journal declared in a May 16 commentary: "Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century."

Individual threats range from the simple to the very complex, the Lancet said, reporting on a year-long study conducted with University College London.

As the global mean temperature rises, expect more heat waves. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects 25 percent more heat waves in Chicago by the year 2100; Los Angeles will likely have a four-to-eightfold increase in the number of heat-wave days by century's end.

These "direct temperature effects" will hit the most vulnerable people hardest, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, especially those with heart problems and asthma, the elderly, the very young and the homeless.

The EPA has declared that carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas. is a danger to human health and welfare, clearing the way for possible regulation of emissions.

At the same time, the U.S. Congress is working on a bill that would cap emissions and issue permits that could be traded between companies that spew more than the limit and those that emit less.


People who live within 60 miles of a shoreline, or about one-third of the world's population, could be affected if sea levels rise as expected over the coming decades, possibly more than 3 feet (1 meter) by 2100. Flooded homes and crops could make environmental refugees of a billion people.

As it becomes hotter, the air can hold more moisture, helping certain disease-carriers, such as the ticks that spread Lyme disease, thrive, the EPA said.

A changing climate could increase the risk of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and various viral causes of encephalitis. Algae blooms in water could be more frequent, increasing the risk of diseases like cholera. Respiratory problems may be aggravated by warming-induced increases in smog.

Other less obvious dangers are also potentially devastating.

Pine bark beetles, which devour trees in western North America will be able to produce more generations each year, instead of subsiding during winter months.

They leave standing dead timber, ideal fuel for wildfires from Arizona to Alaska...

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