Monday, August 27, 2012

Guest Posting: The Ways in Which Climate Change Threatens Global Public Health

Clean Air Watch has posted many articles related to the consequences of ignoring the harmful human effects of air pollution.

Today’s guest post by Charlotte Kellogg touches on a similar topic as she discusses the ways in which greenhouse gases are contributing to the rise in extreme weather occurrences in the U.S. and across the globe. Charlotte is a public health expert on who frequently contributes to a number of online resources intended to guide young people in the field, offering advice such as where to get a public health degree online from reputable schools

The Ways in Which Climate Change Threatens Global Public Health

The total number of natural disasters reported each year has been steadily increasing in recent decades, and with it, devastation and casualties. However, with public outreach campaigns and disaster preparedness education and technology, the toll caused by these forces of nature could be mitigated substantially.

In March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, the largest in the nation's history, hit Japan, triggering a deadly 23-foot tsunami in the northern region of the country. The giant waves destroyed large swaths of cities and rural areas, sweeping cars, homes, buildings and trains along with it. Exacerbating matters, cooling systems in one of the reactors of a nuclear power station in Fukushima caused a nuclear crisis that led to the evacuation of 200,000 residents. Over a year later, approximately 100,000 people still live in temporary housing, and 58,000 acres of farmland and rice paddies remain unusable.

“This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about,” says Jonathon Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at University of Arizona, regarding the recent spate of natural disasters sweeping across the globe.

It’s not just earthquakes: the summer of 2012 has been one of historic heat and drought, with the heat blamed for over 46 deaths by July 8th around the U.S. In Chicago alone, the Cook County medical examiner's office determined that at least 18 people died during the heatwave. Though the heat itself has already claimed dozens of lives, the devastating long-term effects are expected to continue long into the winter, as farmers harvest a disappointing crop that will mean a struggle to feed people and livestock. Because of the dryness, the USDA declared more than 1,000 counties in twenty-six states to be natural disaster areas, by far the largest such designation ever made by the agency. “You couldn't choreograph worse weather conditions for pollination,” says Fred Below , crop biologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It's like farming in Hell.”

In response to the rising amount of natural disasters, several public outreach organizations around the globe are actively working to limit the impact of natural forces on humanity. In October 2010 , The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction called on its partners to play a more active role to protect cities against disasters. In Ethiopia , the World Food Program's LEAP program has been utilized as a tool to calculate crop yield early in the country's dry season, helping humanitarian organizations to forecast the needs of communities in drought prone areas by aiding farmers in predicting bad weather and paying for losses if bad weather occurs.

Technology also plays a role in disaster preparedness. Developed by scientists at the University of the West Indies, the GeoNode platform is being used in the Caribbean to provide data on coastline roads, soil type, rainfall and land areas so that adverse conditions can be monitored, Instant messaging technology is also widely being used; in Kenya the intergovernmental Authority on Development uses to SMS to alert Masai farmers to upcoming bad weather, and by rural residents to alert humanitarian organizations of their location and needs during disasters.

Unfortunately, the most tragic effects of global climate change are not felt until years after, when greenhouse gas emissions are released. If the prior rise of greenhouse gases are any evidence, we may be seeing even more extreme weather for many years to come. As we face the daunting challenges of the 21st century, productive action from humanitarian organizations and advances in technology will become more important than ever so that people can anticipate the effects of extreme weather and act quickly to avert tragedy when possible.

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