If life doesn’t kill you, climate change will


If life doesn’t kill you, climate change will

A difference of 0.5°C won’t only wipe out polar bears and whatnot, it’ll bring deadly diseases and drought

Sanet Oberholzer

Images of giant polar bears reduced to skeletons and the global increase in year-on-year temperatures are some of the more commonly published realities of global warming. How global warming will affect humans is something scientists are starting to explore and new research paints a bleak picture.
Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by almost one degree Celsius in the past 35 years as a result of man-made emissions into the atmosphere since the era of industrialisation. This has resulted in rising sea levels as ice in the Arctic melts and severe weather conditions occur more frequently. The rise in water levels and temperatures will have far-reaching consequences if the trend continues.
According to the World Health Organisation, there is a direct link between the transmission of infectious diseases and climatic conditions. Its findings on malaria are particularly concerning as evidence suggests malaria is the most sensitive disease to long-term climate change.
As per their report, “Temperature increases can greatly affect transmission potential. Globally, temperature increases of 2-3°C would increase the number of people who, in climatic terms, are at risk of malaria by around 3-5%.” This translates to several hundred million people who would be at risk of being infected with malaria.
Research conducted at Arizona State University on flu patterns also points to a correlation between a rise in temperatures and severe strands of flu. It found that warm winters are often followed by a heavy flu season.
Fewer people contract flu during warm winters and, as such, fail to build up a resistance to the flu for the next season –which results in not only an early emergence of the virus but also an exceptionally strong emergence.
The other obvious link between climate change and the transmission of disease is that an increase in flooding causes shorelines to expand which, in turn, results in an increase in waterborne diseases.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations released a special report on global warming last year in which it outlined the difference 0.5°C can make in rising temperatures. In the report, scientists warn that we have only 12 years to curb the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C. Beyond this, we will start to see an increase of 10cm in sea levels by 2100.
Even if we are to limit the rise in global temperatures by 1.5°C – which is very optimistic and will require drastic action – 36% of the glaciers along the Hindu Kush and Himalaya range will have melted by 2100. If temperatures are not curbed at a rise of 1.5°C, this loss increases to two-thirds.
The peer-reviewed report titled The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment was put together by of more than 200 scientists and was requested by the eight countries in the region.
Melting glaciers will at first cause a drastic increase in river flow which will flood communities, but after a while the flow of the river will decrease. This will not only result in drought conditions that will dramatically affect the crops of farmers that feed the populations of the eight countries in the area, it will also cut power generated by the hydrodams that generate a large portion of the region’s electricity.
Global warming is a global problem. It won’t affect only the polar bears in the Arctic or the two billion people in the Himalayas. It will affect people the world over.
The scary thing is we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the long-term effects. For those who think the problem concerns only losing animal species, it’s about losing millions of humans as well – humans who are creating the problem themselves.

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