Year 4, Month 12, Day 17: I Don’t Feel So Well Myself

USA Today, on the new face of climate-change: disease.

SACRAMENTO — Software engineer Andres Chavez is used to doing things quickly, efficiently and correctly. So he knew something was seriously wrong when, on a business trip in 2009, he was so confused he could barely sign a stack of paperwork.

“I felt like I was living a quarter-second in the past,” he says of the onset of Valley Fever, a disease caused by a soil fungus. It took months for his doctor to finally suggest that might be the cause of Chavez’s episodes of “getting stupid,” as his wife calls it.

“He called and asked me if I spent any time down in the Central Valley, and I said of course I did, my family lives in Livingston, Calif.,” Chavez, 43, remembers.

The soil there and in much of the arid Southwest carries the Coccidioides fungus. In dry months, the dust scatters in the wind and can be breathed into the lungs, infecting humans, dogs and cats and other mammals. The incidence is rising dramatically in the Southwest, where reported cases increased tenfold from 1998 to 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Weathering the Change logo

The series will look at different regions of the country.(Photo: USA TODAY)

Valley Fever is one of multiple diseases experts say are spreading in part because of climate change. They include a brain-eating amoeba showing up in northern lakes that were once too cold to harbor it and several illnesses carried by ticks whose range is increasing.

Sounds attractive, no? December 5:

The climate-change denialists in politics and media are subject to frequent interludes of confusion and disorientation, rather like those afflicted by Coccidioides. While it isn’t as foreign-sounding as, say, “West Nile virus”, the fact is that an increasing incidence of “Valley Fever” is yet another unanticipated consequence of the accelerating greenhouse effect: the expansion of disease vectors into new areas. As climate change becomes a fact of our daily lives, America’s doctors can expect to encounter hitherto exotic ailments more and more often.

Congressional Republicans are still, of course, obsessed with their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If these anti-science lawmakers took their jobs seriously, they’d realize that these spreading insects, viruses and bacteria are a far graver threat to our economy than a mild regulatory regime for health insurers. Apparently lobbyist cash has an even more debilitating impact on the brain than a dust-scattered soil fungus.

Warren Senders


Year 9, Month 9, Day 13: Sick Comedy

The Hindu (India) notes that climate change is going to bring us some issues with insects:

How will wind strength impact the migration and affect the flight range of mosquitoes? These and several other parameters are being studied at the micro-environmental level by scientists as part of a national project on climate change to forecast spectrum of vector-borne diseases.

With climate change influencing all aspects, including health and agriculture, CSIR through its network of institutions is seeking to develop sustainable mitigation strategies at local level. As part of this, a national project — Integrated Analysis for Impact, Mitigation and Sustainability — has been initiated to leverage multi-disciplinary expertise available at CSIR for developing suitable models by taking into account various geographical variations.

Pesky little buggers, aren’t they? September 6:

A common prognostication from those who are attentive to the geopolitical implications of climate change is that unimaginably large numbers of people are likely to become “climate refugees” in the coming decades. Indeed, as rising sea levels wipe out coastal lands, disappearing glaciers no longer provide sufficient water for agriculture in mountainous areas, and intensifying drought bakes the areas in between, it’s a fair bet that millions will lose their land and their hopes, if not their lives.

But humans are only the tip of the (rapidly melting) iceberg when it comes to climate-caused displacement. Countless plant, animal and insect species are going to be racing to new habitats; these lifeforms, just like human beings, will be struggling to survive on a transforming planet — but their interests aren’t always going to align easily with ours. The increased prevalence of insect-carried diseases like dengue fever is a case in point.

While diplomatic preparations will be necessary in a post-climate-change world to avoid resource wars and border conflicts, it is equally necessary to develop medical communications and infrastructure to cope with these smaller (but equally significant) “refugees.”

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 7: It’s Not A Bug, It’s A Feature!

Gee, whocoodaknowed? WaPo:

West Nile virus outbreaks are likely to flare up in the coming years, spurred on by warmer, longer mosquito seasons coupled with cuts in disease-control funding that leave authorities unprepared, according to two new studies.

After an all-time high in 2003 with nearly 10,000 cases and 264 dead, the virus backed off gradually for the remainder of the decade — until last year. In 2012, there were 5,674 cases and 286 deaths, almost twice the 2003 mortality rate.

This strong resurgence is suggestive of “unpredictable local and regional outbreaks” to come, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even when the number of infections dies down, the virus remains in circulation with an ever-present danger of periodic recurrences.

“Every once in a while, you will have the right conditions to have it build up in the mosquito and bird populations, and spill over to humans,” said Stephen M. Ostroff, formerly of the CDC, who wrote an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that accompanied the studies.

Leaving aside the brain-eating viruses already occupying the House, of course…July 19:

The disease’s very name suggests a far-off locale well out of the awareness of most Americans. The likely increase in cases of West Nile virus is yet another complex epiphenomenon of global climate change: the relocation of disease vectors into areas previously inhospitable.

As climate change intensifies, America’s doctors are going to get a lot more experience treating tropical and exotic diseases, and if Congressional Republicans weren’t utterly fixated on denying the most basic realities of science, they would recognize that the insects carrying the sometimes deadly virus are “illegal immigrants” with the potential to damage our economy far more than the larger, human, kind. Mosquito surveillance is homeland security of a concrete and well-founded sort, unlike the reflexive xenophobia which characterizes the GOP’s approach to anything they don’t understand (“volcano monitoring,” anyone?).

It’s long past time for those obstructing our mechanisms of government to get out of the way.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 11, Day 11: Put It In The Trash With The Others!

The Riverside Press-Enterprise (“THE sources for news and information in Inland Southern California”) runs a story about a newly released study on the probable health impacts of climate change:

A study released Monday looked at six climate change-related events in the United States – three of them specific to the Inland region – and found that the cost of health problems, lost work and deaths totaled about $14 billion.

The work by scientists from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental action group, and UC San Francisco was published in Health Affairs, a public health journal funded by The People-to-People Health Foundation.

Though other studies have estimated future health costs related to climate change, this is the first to look at the outcomes of specific weather events, said co-author Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a staff scientist in the health and environment program at the council’s San Francisco office.

The aim of the study, she said, is to prompt policy makers to prepare for future problems. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, the group is calling for such measures as expanding programs for mosquito surveillance and control to reduce the cases of West Nile virus and implementing warning systems for heat waves.

Oh, goody! Another study!

Sent November 7:

Some of the public health effects of global climate change will simply be inconvenient (faster-growing, more virulent poison ivy), and some will be debilitating (increased pollen levels will trigger misery for millions of asthmatics). But it’s not just wheezing and itching. Migrating insect carriers will bring tropical diseases into new and vulnerable areas; catastrophic storms and heavy precipitation will wreak enormous damage on agriculture and infrastructure; droughts will trigger more frequent and more severe wildfires…the list goes on and on.

The UC/NRDC researchers, like most scientists, tend to err on the conservative side; their $14 billion estimate is probably way too low. And also like many scientists, the study’s authors are touchingly naive: they hope their work will “prompt policy makers to prepare for future problems,” when the lessons of recent history demonstrate conclusively that our politicians can only deal with future problems by denying their existence entirely.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 1, Day 29: Talk To The Scientists, Mike.

Randall Parkinson and Scott Mandia take on columnist Mike Thomas’s volleys of idiocy in the Orlando Sentinel. It is excellent to see actual scientists doing this work; Mandia and Parkinson are both smart and dedicated people.

I am informed that this letter has been published. Yay, me.

As Parkinson and Mandia point out, our media’s relentless preoccupation with short-term phenomena has made it all but impossible for the general public to become well informed about the slow-motion disaster of climate change. When broadcasters and columnists offer an anomalous snowfall as “proof” that global warming isn’t happening, they are contributing to a climate of ignorance and irresponsibility. When that same media plays the game of false equivalency, where each genuinely worried climate scientist is “balanced” by at least two spokespeople from petroleum-funded conservative think tanks, they are acting recklessly and endangering all of us. What we need is education; a population that understands a few basic principles of science won’t be so easily misled. What we get, of course, is something different and much more damaging. As our warming world makes climate change’s effects ever harder to ignore, will our media begin trying to keep pace with reality?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 1, Day 12: Sick As A Brick

The Kansas City Star notes that a warming climate will bring a change in disease vectors, with a greater likelihood of catching things that were previously the exclusive province of tropical explorers.

The increased prevalence of uncommon diseases triggered by climate change is another example of the long-term consequences of two mutually reinforcing human behaviors: wastefulness and denial. Our efforts to mitigate the escalating climate crisis are hampered by our collective unwillingness to make needed systemic changes in our energy economy — while the rising levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are matched by those of scientific illiteracy in our public discourse. While the scientific consensus on global warming is overwhelming, you wouldn’t know it from the news, where every perturbed climatologist is “balanced” by a petroleum-industry shill, conveying the impression that “the science isn’t settled.” As the world warms, we’ll meet quite a few unpleasant tropical diseases — perhaps when our kids have to stay out of school because of Dengue fever or malaria, we’ll realize that our national ignorance of the facts of climate change has made us sick.

Warren Senders