How Climate Change is Causing Disease

“The disease of an evil conscience is beyond the practice of all the physicians of all the countries in the would.”
~William E. Gladstone

In my book, I wrote about about malaria could spread due to its vector—the mosquito—could extend its territory thanks to a warmer climate beyond the tropics. Well guess what: another mosquito-borne virus is rearing its ugly head. Cases of mosquito-borne Japanese encephalitis have risen nearly five times in the last five years in India’s northeast Assam state. The reason has been attributed to warming weather and changing rainfall.

From 2010 to 2014, the number of annual cases of Japanese encephalitis climbed from 154 to 744. Deaths from the infection in that same period rose from 41 to 160. Only six years ago this disease was seen in half of the state’s districts; now it’s seen in all of them.

Experts attribute the increase to climate change and that’s no surprise. It used to be seen between May and July, but now it’s found into November because mosquitoes are surviving longer in these warmer conditions. In particular, warmer conditions means farmers can grow crops of rice longer each year, but these rice paddies mean that standing water provides breeding grounds for mosquitoes for longer periods during the year.

Some people have been critical that the situation reached the state it has, arguing that people should have been better prepared, given that we already know that global warming is real and that such conditions were a foregone conclusion to allow mosquito-borne diseases to increase. Sankar Prasad Rai of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) put it this way:

The data from the state health department itself shows that the disease has taken a deadly turn over the years in the state. Unfortunately the state machinery waited for the disease to go out of control, whereas it should have taken steps to control the disease much earlier.

Maybe this is India and maybe that does;t mean much to you. But it’s only a matter of time before climate change will affect diseases in your neck of the woods. Along with coastal flooding and threatened sources of fresh water and food supplies, these sorts of diseases will be one of the biggest threats to our species that climate change will create.

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Old Arctic Ice: Going, Going, Gone

“We need to save the Arctic not because of the polar bears, and not because it is the most beautiful place in the world, but because our very survival depends upon it.”
—Lewis Gordon Pugh

A strong piece of evidence that our planet is warming is that the large floating ice cube at the North Pole—the freely floating ice without any land underneath it—is slowly shrinking. It hasn’t been enough to convince diehard deniers, but there’s no doubt the amount of ice has been slowly shrinking in the 35 years since satellites have been able to accurately record the phenomenon.

One of the reasons skeptics are tough on the point is because each winter sea ice expands again until it reaches its peak in March. It shrinks each summer reaching its smallest amount every September. But here’s a new look at this issue: how much ice survives year to year. It has never completely disappeared any summer since we started looking at the issue (although experts are sure that’s just a matter of time). So some ice survives for years. So how much “old” ice is sticking around compared to previous years.

This animation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration makes clear just how much ice is surviving. And in recent years it’s alarmingly little. It’s best to watch this one-minute video twice: once to focus on the oldest ice in white (more than nine years old) and then again simply watching how much ice in any colour including dark blue is present.

On the first viewing, you’ll notice that the oldest ice really starts to shrink after 2000, becoming nothing but a narrow band by 2008. It turns out that ice more than four years old made up 26 percent in the 1980s, but only 10 percent last year.

Your second viewing shows the extent of all ice, and although that’s shrinking, it’s less dramatic than the amount of old ice that’s shrinking.

There’s only one thing that can do that: heat. Not a different distribution of it like the deniers would like you to think. Simply more of it, because our planet is warming.

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Senate Environment Chair Explains Why Global Warming is a Hoax

Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma and the Senate Environment Chair tells the Senate why he thinks global warming is a hoax in this video. I’m going to let you decide what you think of his comments rather than influence you with facts that refute him. (But those facts are strewn throughout the last couple of years of my posts if you want the truth.) If only he wasn’t funded so significantly by the fossil fuel industry, then maybe he’d have slightly more credibility. (Did I mention he’s the Senate Environment Chair?)

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Okay Climate Change, Now It’s Personal!

The post with this video has been retweeted more than any other I have put up on my site. I guess when climate change starts to threaten the things we love like coffee, chocolate and wine, people start to stand up and take notice. If you didn’t see it previously, here’s your chance to see why it’s been so popular. Enjoy!

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Jet Stream, Polar Vortex and Cold Weather

I get why some very rational people are confused about whether or not climate change is real. On the one hand, you have deniers like Donal Trump asking “Where’s your global warming now?” anytime it’s cold, dismissing heat records as natural variations unrelated to our greenhouse gas emissions. Sure, 2014 was that hottest year in recorded history so they’re quiet now, but you can bet the question will be asked once again the next time we don’t have a record-breaking year.

But experts don’t always sound so convincing either, stating “Any one extreme weather event can’t be proven to be linked to climate change, but the overall trend is overwhelmingly in favour of evidence for global warming,” and when it’s cold they talk about changing weather patterns. (Hey, science is complicated.)

I must admit, this winter has had some wild fluctuations in temperature where I live. One day it’s 10 degrees Celsius, and the next it’s -25. It’s not the kind of climate change a Canadian longs for. But is it evidence against global warming when we still get those super cold days? Absolutely not. Climate scientists predicted a decade ago that loss of Arctic ice would change weather patterns and shift storm tracks. These changes would be expected to bring on more severe droughts, much like what North America has been experiencing in the last few years. The change even has a name: the Polar Vortex.

Recent studies have found that loss of Arctic sea ice loss can lead to changes in the jet stream, and that contributes to more extreme weather patterns all by itself. It’s been understood for many years that a warming planet will lead to melting ice and snow, both of which are highly reflective. (The planet’s reflectivity is referred to as albedo; the higher the albedo, the more reflective the surface is.) Those surfaces on our planet where melting occurs get replaced by dark blue ocean or dark land. These darker surfaces absorb more sunlight and that means more solar energy is absorbed. This is one of the reasons the Arctic warms more quickly than other parts of our planet.

Studies have shown that amplified Arctic warming leads to an amplification of extreme weather simply by shifting and weakening the jet stream. It’s been noted that over the past 30 years that the extent of Arctic sea ice in late summer has dropped by about eight percent per decade, and spring snow coverage in June has dropped by 18 percent per decade.

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