What’s bad for the planet is usually bad for human health. In other words, the current warming trends don’t spell good news for the well-being of our species... or for many others.
There are exceptions. Insects will thrive as the warmer temperatures increase their metabolic and reproductive rates, as well as their appetite. Not only will this encourage the spread of Zika, West Nile and Chikungunya viruses carried by mosquitoes, but also tick-borne Lyme disease which is already on the rise. According to a paper recently published in Science, insects in the future are expected to devour a much higher percentage of crops than they do at present - around five to 20 per cent.
Meanwhile, a team of Harvard scientists has calculated that, under the CO2 concentration expected by mid-century, crops will carry less zinc, iron and proteins, casting the shadows of massive nutrient and micronutrient deficiencies, at least in poorer countries.
Richer countries, long thought to be more resilient to climate change, have discovered this summer that they are not. In Japan, a heatwave killed dozens of people and hospitalised 22,000. Forests were burning in Sweden and an African record temperature was registered in Algeria at 51.3oC. In Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, the air was unbreathable for days as the three cities, which usually benefit from the pristine forests that surround them, were engulfed in smoke from British Columbia wildfires.
Air quality was even worse in Mumbai, Jakarta and Beijing, where coal combustion dims the light, clogs the lungs and further warms the atmosphere. According to the World Health Organization, humans’ dependency on fossil fuels leads to seven million people dying prematurely every year because of high pollution levels.
A new study, published in Nature Climate Changein August, found that there is a strong correlation between higher temperatures and mental instability, even inducing higher suicide rates. In a warmer world, even the human nervous system will perform worse.
‘The world is facing a true planetary health emergency,’ warns The Lancet’s most recent editorial. In other words, what’s bad for the planet, is bad for human health.
This was published in the October 2018 edition of Geographical magazine
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