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 4, Month 6, Day 15: Today Is The Tomorrow You Worried About Yesterday

USA Today tells us (again!) about allergies:

MELROSE PARK, Ill. — From the roof of the Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in the Chicago suburbs, an 83-year-old retired doctor finds troubling evidence of why so many people are sneezing and itching their eyes.

Joseph Leija counts the pollen and mold spores that collect on slides inside an air-sucking machine atop the six-story building. “There’s been an increase, no doubt about it,” he says of the 5 a.m. weekday counts that he’s been doing as a volunteer for 24 years.

“My allergies are much worse than they used to be,” says Amanda Carwyle, a mom of three who lives 95 miles south in Pontiac, Ill. “I used to be able to take a Benadryl or Claritin and be fine.” Now, despite three medications and allergy shots that make her feel a bit like a zombie, she says her eyes are watery and her head stuffy. “I’m so miserable.”

Good health! May 31:

All the self-styled “fiscal conservatives” who loudly assert that addressing global climate change would cost too much need to start paying attention to the externalities which accompany the rapidly intensifying greenhouse effect. Repairing infrastructure, revamping agriculture, cleaning up after the tornadoes and hurricanes — all these take money, and lots of it.

Now we can add another item to the list: the cumulative cost in human time and productivity due to worsening allergies. Any hay fever sufferer will agree that there’s nothing funny about the affliction, and when the number of hours lost to runny noses, streaming eyes, and asthmatic attacks are toted up, the sum should be cause for alarm, even to those politicians who’ve built their careers on attacking climate science’s conclusions.

While antihistamine manufacturers can look forward to record-breaking profits, the public health consequences of continuing to ignore the climate crisis are nothing to sneeze at.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 17: Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair

The Burlington Free Press (VT) notes that another big insurance organization has gone all DFH on us:

The number of natural disasters per year has been rising dramatically on all continents since 1980, but the trend is steepest for North America where countries have been battered by hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, searing heat and drought, a new report says.

The study being released today by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm, sees climate change driving the increase and predicts those influences will continue in years ahead, though a number of experts question that conclusion.

Whatever the causes, the report shows that if you thought the weather has been getting worse, you’re right.

The report finds that weather disasters in North America are among the worst and most volatile in the world: “North America is the continent with the largest increases in disasters,” says Munich Re’s Peter Roder.

The report focuses on weather disasters since 1980 in the USA, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Roder says this report represents the first finding of a climate change “footprint” in the data from natural catastrophes.

Take a bath, you lazy flower children. Sent October 10:

How often are we reminded that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” The newly released Munich Re report on the likely impact of climate change should bring that old maxim back to the forefront of our thinking. Insurers are quite rightly anxious about having to shell out big bucks to pay for our national failure to anticipate the disastrous consequences of global warming in our own country and around the world.

Conservative politicians may extol the virtues of the free market, but this is merely rhetoric; their deny-and-delay policies will do incalculable damage to our economy when the bill finally comes due. And what a bill: coping with devastated agriculture, crippled infrastructure, decimated biodiversity, geopolitical instability, and catastrophic public-health impacts is going to cost trillions of dollars. It’s both economically and environmentally sensible to address the climate crisis before it’s too late.

Prevention, not cure.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 14: When We Talk About Reducing Poverty, This Is NOT What We Had In Mind.

The Chicago Tribune notes a new report from Oxfam. Are you poor? Too bad, loser:

LONDON (Reuters) – Climate change may pose a much more serious threat to the world’s poor than existing research has suggested because of spikes in food prices as extreme weather becomes more common, Oxfam said on Wednesday.

More frequent extreme weather events will create shortages, destabilize markets and precipitate price spikes on top of projected structural price rises of about 100 percent for staples such as maize over the next 20 years, the charity said in a report.

Droughts in the U.S. Midwest and Russia this year have helped to propel prices for maize and soybeans to record highs and United Nations food agencies this week said that world leaders must take swift action to ensure that food-price shocks do not turn into a catastrophe that could hurt tens of millions of people.

This is going to get really really ugly. Sent September 7:

While spiking food prices are going to clobber poor people, climate change’s impact on worldwide agriculture is only just beginning to be felt. When rising sea levels submerge low-lying areas, the farmers who are turned into refugees and forced from their homes will face profound and devastating losses of land, income, heritage and hope. When insect species travel to new areas to keep up with a rapidly transforming climate, they’ll bring new diseases with concomitant public health impacts — and guess who’ll do most of the suffering? It won’t be the “one percent,” that’s for sure.

When infrastructure crumbles under the assault of extreme weather, the very wealthy may find themselves inconvenienced, but it is those without economic power whose lives will be shattered. Affecting food, land, health, and work, climate change will swell the ranks of the world’s powerless in ways that our politicians have completely failed to anticipate.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 17: I Have A Banana In My Ear!

U.S. News and World Report acknowledges that the Public Health picture is far from rosy, in an article entitled “Expert: Climate Change Will Increasingly Become Global Health Issue”:

Previously just the worry of climate scientists, environmentalists, doomsday prognosticators, and gas-price watchers, climate change is starting to worry some others— public health specialists, who say that global warming could affect large swaths of the population.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS Medicine Tuesday, a group of European public health experts write that climate change could alter “patterns of physical activity and food availability, and in some cases [bring] direct physical harm.” Slight temperature increases could also change disease distribution in colder regions and make hotter regions less hospitable to humans.

“Certain subgroups are at more risk—mainly the young, the old, and the poor,” says Peter Byass, director of the Umea Centre for Global Health Research in Sweden. “The middle age and wealthy will be better off. It’s a crude way of looking at it, but it’s not so far off the mark.”

That means more prevalence of diseases that affect the poor, such as malaria and dengue fever, and heat stroke in drought-afflicted areas.

For years, scientists have warned about more extreme hurricanes and weather patterns, but until recently, not much emphasis was put on less noticeable changes.

The comments include much stupidity, in highly predictable formats. Sent June 6:

The public health consequences of climate change are going to be very significant. It’s more than just hotter days and crazier weather; it’s invasive insects migrating to keep pace with environmental transformations and bringing tropical diseases with them; it’s the potential damage to our infrastructure that will make hamper sanitation; it’s allergies and asthma and a host of other debilitating ailments that will make our lives and those of our children progressively more difficult in coming centuries.

But even this does not begin to fully address the problem, for what affects humans will affect other life as well. Many species will be unable to cope, and we can anticipate losing much of the biodiversity that forms Earth’s priceless genetic heritage. Your headline announces that climate change is becoming a “Global Health Issue.” Indeed. It’s not just the people who live on it, but the planet itself that is deeply ill.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 3, Day 23: Good News For The Albuterol Lobby

The Chicago Tribune reprints a story from US News and World Report on (hack! cough! sneeze!) the respiratory impacts of climate change:

A group of lung doctors warned Thursday that climate change will likely lead to an increase in the rate and severity of a variety of respiratory diseases.

“We felt as though the medical community was not understanding how climate change might impact patients and their health,” says Kent Pinkerton, director of the Center for Health & the Environment at the University of California-Davis. Pinkerton says the warning came out of a meeting of top climate change scientists and lung doctors that discussed the potential impacts of global warming on patient health.

“It was an eye opener for us as we began to talk to climatologists and other individuals to find out how climate change can have far-reaching effects,” he says. It’s not just pollution’s impact on air quality that’s causing an increasing number of cases of asthma, allergies and chronic pulmonary diseases, according to the document.

I know a lot of people with asthma. It’s no joke. Neither is this. Sent March 17:

While an uptick in respiratory diseases is already bad news (given that Americans lose millions of work hours and experience more than enough asthma-related misery already), the public health consequences of climate change are only beginning to be understood, and the genuinely scary stuff still isn’t attracting media attention.

It’s not just increased pollen counts ravaging our lungs. It’s disease-carrying insects traveling northward as warmer conditions spread. It’s disruption of monocropped agriculture from extreme weather events; it’s trees no longer protected by winter freezes from destructive beetle pests; it’s droughts and wildfires; it’s the ongoing loss of biodiversity in our planetary environment. Each of these factors is grim enough when considered in isolation — but the complex jigsaw puzzle that is planetary climate chaos has yet to be assembled in the public imagination. Will we put all the pieces together before our civilization is rent asunder?

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 11, Day 12: Now Watch This Drive!

More on the health impact study, this time from the LA Times:

Six climate change-related events taking place between 2000 and 2009 cost the U.S. about $14 billion in health costs, researchers reported Monday in the journal Health Affairs.

Most of those costs — 95% — were attributable to the value of lost lives, they wrote. About $740 million originated in “760,000 encounters with the health care system.”

The coauthors, affiliated with the Natural Resources Defense Council, UC Berkeley’s Boalt Law School in Berkeley and UC San Francisco wrote that their article was “a first attempt to synthesize health data from the literature on events related to climate change and to develop a uniform method of quantifying their health costs.”

The events they studied are the types of climate-related disasters that are expected to occur more often in the future as the Earth’s climate warms, they said.

There. You’ve covered your ass, now.

Sent November 8:

The Health Affairs study on the costs of climate change is particularly important when considered alongside the Department of Energy report released last week which noted a “monster” increase in greenhouse gas emissions for 2010, suggesting that the extreme weather we’ve witnessed so far has been merely a preview of coming attractions. For all their bluster about reducing the deficit, conservative politicians don’t seem to remember the old aphorism, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When we consider fourteen billion dollars of health costs connected to global climate change, it should be obvious: America needs to prepare for a future in which these environmental disasters are both more frequent and more severe. We must act now to reduce those bills before they come due. A failure to do so is sensible only in a political environment where empty posturing trumps factuality one hundred percent of the time.

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 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