Climate Primer #31: Impacts of Climate Crisis – 14. Deteriorating Health

To summarize, climate crisis is the defining issue of the century. Buildup of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Earth’s atmosphere is driving global heating, while a convergence of global crises threatens to rupture key planetary boundaries. Although the human activities which drive these converging crises (for simplicity: the climate crisis) are diverse and complex, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) breaks down the sources of anthropogenic GHG emissions into five high-level sectors. Similarly, the impacts of climate crisis – in their variety and complexity – are almost impossible for an individual to grasp, but so far, this sub-series has covered: global heating, Arctic amplification, heat waves, droughts and floods, disruption of oceanic and atmospheric patterns, cryosphere collapse, declining oceanic dissolved oxygen content, sea level rise, fisheries collapse, coral reef die-offs, deforestation, water scarcity, and food insecurity. In the absence of dramatic global climate action this decade, climate crisis will likely spiral out of control, rupturing key planetary boundaries and endangering the future of organized human life on Earth.

There are many ways in which climate crisis will undermine (and is already undermining) human health, a number of which have already been touched upon in previous posts, but this AR5 excerpt does a nice (which is to say, terrible and alarming) job of summarizing:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 69)

Here in New York City, the mosquitoes have been noticeably worse in recent years, even with the City’s extensive eradication efforts (which include the use of a number of toxic substances), and I’ve never seen mosquitoes as bad here as they have been this summer. As one would expect, New York’s mosquito season also starts earlier now and lasts longer than it used to (last year, into December), and as novel diseases (West Nile, Zika, chikungunya) spread and old diseases (malaria, dengue, EEE) re-emerge as threats, residents of the Northeast of the United States can expect vector-borne infectious diseases to resume a dread character in our consciousness that, during the 20th century, was widely imagined had been relegated to the annals of a pre-Modern history – although, of course, vector-borne illness is only one of the multiple human health threats outlined above.

As is broadly the case with respect to climate crisis and climate action, every day that passes is a day during which collective resources dwindle and collective threats mount. Basically, there’s always no time like the present for climate action, and it will take remarkable, lasting, mass movement to drive the necessary public action to address climate crisis, so I hope you’ve committed yourself to being part of the struggle.

Brief bonus material today on the roots of the CDC in malaria control efforts in the US South. We can hope that someday soon, the institution is restored to some semblance of serving its mission.

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