Climate change will make Americans more vulnerable to diseases, disasters and heat waves, but governments have done little to plan for the added burden on the health system, according to a new study by a nonprofit group.
The study, released Monday by the Trust for America’s Health, an advocacy group focused on disease prevention, examines the public-health implications of climate change. In addition to pushing up sea levels and shrinking Arctic ice, the report says, a warming planet is likely to leave more people sick, short of breath or underfed.
Experts involved with the study said that these threats might be reduced if the federal government adopts a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions. But no legislation could stop them altogether, they said. Emissions already in the atmosphere are expected to increase warming — and the problems that come with it — for years to come.
“That [a cap on greenhouse gases] really is not enough,” said Phyllis Cuttino of the Pew Environment Group, which funded the study. “We can see all these problems coming, but as a country, we haven’t done enough to prepare for them.”
The idea that climate change will be bad for people as well as polar bears is not new: It was explained in detail by a United Nations panel that won the Nobel Peace Prize for its work on climate in 2007.
For more on the health impacts of climate change, see
- NRC: Burning fossil fuels costs the U.S. $120 billion a year “” not counting mercury or climate impacts!
- Global Warming Is A Medical Emergency”: Hellish heatwaves to harm health of millions
- The Lancet’s landmark Health Commission: “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”
- Climate change helps spread dengue fever in 28 states
For centuries, Adam Abdi Ibrahim’s ancestors herded cattle and goats across an unforgiving landscape in southern Somalia where few others were hardy enough to survive.
This year, Ibrahim became the first in his clan to throw in the towel, abandoning his land and walking for a week to bring his family to this overcrowded refugee camp in Kenya.
He’s not fleeing warlords, Islamist insurgents or Somalia’s 18-year civil war. He’s fleeing the weather.
“I give up,” said the father of five as he stood in line recently to register at the camp. After enduring four years of drought and the death of his last 20 animals, Ibrahim, 28, said he has no plans to return.
Asked how he proposed to live, Ibrahim shrugged. “I want to be a refugee.”
Africa is already home to one-third of the 42 million people worldwide uprooted by ethnic slaughter, despots and war. But experts say climate change is quietly driving Africa’s displacement crisis to new heights. Ibrahim is one of an estimated 10 million people worldwide who have been driven out of their homes by rising seas, failing rain, desertification or other climate-driven factors.
Norman Myers, an Oxford University professor and one of the first scholars to draw attention to the unfolding problem, estimated that by 2050 there will be more than 25 million refugees attributable to climate change, which will replace war and persecution as the leading cause of global displacement.
When night falls in remote parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent, hundreds of millions of people without access to electricity turn to candles or flammable and polluting kerosene lamps for illumination.
Slowly through small loans for solar powered devices, microfinance is bringing light to these rural regions where a lack of electricity has stymied economic development, literacy rates and health.
“Earlier, they could not do much once the sun set. Now, the sun is used differently. They have increased their productivity, improved their health and socio-economic status,” said Pinal Shah from Sewa bank, a micro-lending institution.
Vegetable seller Ramiben Waghri took out a loan to buy a solar lantern which she uses to light up her stall at night. The lantern costs between $66-$112, about a week’s income for Waghri.
“The vegetables look better by this light, and it’s cheaper than kerosene and doesn’t smell,” said Waghri, who estimates she makes about 300 rupees ($6) more each evening with her lantern.
“If we can use the sun to save some money, why not?”
In India, solar power projects, often funded by microcredit institutions, are helping the country reduce carbon emissions and achieve its goal to double the contribution of renewable energy to 6 percent, or 25,000 megawatts, within the next four years.
Off-grid applications such as solar cookers and lanterns, which can provide several hours of light at night after being charged by the sun during the day, will help cut dependence on fossil fuels and reduce the fourth biggest emitter’s carbon footprint, said Pradeep Dadhich, a senior fellow at energy research institute TERI.
President Obama and administration officials today will announce $3.4 billion in spending projects to modernize the nation’s electric power system.
The president will offer details on funding for the “smart grid” during an appearance at a solar plant in Arcadia, Fla. White House officials said the projects would create tens of thousands of jobs in the near term and lay the groundwork for changing how Americans use and pay for energy.
The spending is aimed at improving the efficiency and reliability of the U.S. power supply, and helping to create markets for wind and solar power, officials said. They also said it would create “smart meters” to help consumers use electricity when demand is low and when rates are cheaper — for example, by running dishwashers and other energy-thirsty appliances in the middle of the night.
The money will be released in the form of grants to applicants and must be matched dollar for dollar by private funding.
The clean-energy push comes as the administration is working to respond to a national unemployment rate hovering near double digits. Vice President Joe Biden today will announce the reopening of a former General Motors plant in Delaware to produce more efficient cars. And several Cabinet secretaries are scheduled to testify before a Senate panel in support of sweeping legislation to curb emissions that contribute to global warming and to encourage renewable energy development.
The president’s announcement comes after comments last week by a key Obama economic advisor, Christina Romer, who said the economic gains from the administration’s signature $787-billion stimulus plan had probably peaked.
The staggering economic growth in China has come at a heavy cost, paid in severe contamination of the country’s air, soil and water. But now the Chinese government is aggressively pursuing more stringent environmental regulation, with a particular focus on water distribution and wastewater treatment.
Recent stimulus spending has opened up the Chinese market to green initiatives. And Canadian companies are responding to the call for advanced water treatment and reuse technology.
“It’s not well known that China has set aside more money for the adoption of clean technologies than any other country on the planet,” said Dallas Kachan, managing director of Cleantech Group in San Francisco, which tracks global investment in clean technologies.
The Chinese economic stimulus package of 4 trillion yuan, or $585 billion, announced a year ago, focused nearly 40 percent of its spending on environmental and energy-efficient projects.
The climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December is likely to prompt policy shifts that further drive the market for clean technologies in China, Mr. Kachan said. “This is possibly the best time to be doing business in China as a clean-tech company,” he said. “It’s important to get in now and form relationships.”
Since 2006, the clean-technology market in China has “gone from niche to mainstream,” and it is growing at an annual rate of more than 20 percent, according to Tsing Capital, one of the country’s first clean-technology venture capital firms.
Canada has a strong track record for innovation and investment in clean water technology and already has a foot in the Chinese market. “Canadian companies like Zenon Environmental that are world leaders in ultraviolet technology have benefited a lot of the emerging companies looking to enter China,” said David Henderson, managing director of XPV Capital, a Toronto-based investor in emerging water industry companies.
Alan McMillan is managing director of Omazo Ventures, a technology incubator firm also based in Toronto, and chairman of BX Jishu, a Chinese clean-technology distributor. Omazo, through BX Jishu, distributes in China equipment manufactured by UV Pure Technologies, also of Toronto, that purifies water using ultraviolet light.
This summer, Omazo struck a deal with a Shanghai-based hotel chain to supply 1,000 Chinese hotels with UV Pure’s purification units. Omazo declined to name the buyer but said that on average, each unit would cost $2,000 and hotels would typically need 2 to 10 units, depending on their size.
Omazo is focused on the commercial property market “” and specifically, on bringing clean water to China’s burgeoning hospitality industry. “That’s our penetration strategy,” Mr. McMillan said. “We see the hotel industry as being one of the first to demand clean water. Hotels have extreme water needs for their pools, restaurants, showers. And the people who stay in them have high expectations.”
Developing nations in South Asia and Africa including India may face greater threats from heat- trapping pollution if nations fail to reach a new climate agreement at Copenhagen, a United Nations official said.
“The unfortunate coincidence is that developing countries are located in the tropical belt and are more vulnerable to the impact of climate change,” said Marcel Alers, a climate change mitigation adviser to the United Nations Development Program.
South Asia and Africa may be “hit first and hit harder” because they have fewer resources than developed nations to meet the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions such as floods, droughts and water shortages, Alers said in an interview at the Carbon Asia Forum in Singapore yesterday.
India requires $5 billion a year between 2012 and 2017, in addition to its current investment plans, to support a transition to low-carbon energy generation, the United Nations Development Program said in its Human Development Report, citing research by the Energy and Resources Institute.
Asia’s third-biggest economy is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide while China is the world’s biggest emitter, according to the UN agency. Between 1990 and 2004, emissions climbed 97 percent, one of the fastest pace of gains in the world, it said.
Just a few days after he caused an uproar by calling some Iraq and Afghanistan veterans “traitors” for warning about climate change, radio ads are being run on Pittsburgh stations, urging listeners to call his office and demand that he resign from the Legislature.
But the Republican flame-thrower said he won’t quit and blamed the harsh radio attacks on groups such as Operation Free, VoteVets.org and liberal billionaire George Soros, all of whom, Mr. Metcalfe claimed, have a “radical leftist” political agenda.
Mr. Metcalfe, a military veteran himself, contended that any veteran who lends their name “to promote the leftist propaganda of global warming and climate change, in an effort to control more of the wealth created in our economy … is a traitor to the oath he or she took to defend the Constitution of our great nation!”
The new radio ad, running on KDKA and other stations, opens with a narrator saying sternly, “Traitors — that’s what state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe called decorated Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.”
The announcer then says that Mr. Metcalfe had attacked “members of Operation Free, veterans whose goal is to make America more secure with clean energy and cut the flow of oil dollars to those who would do us harm.”
The ad also has Pittsburgh veteran Chuck Tyler saying, “Rep. Metcalfe, a lot of my friends never made it home from Iraq. Dishonoring us dishonors their memory. We deserve better and so does Pennsylvania.”
People will need to turn vegetarian if the world is to conquer climate change, according to a leading authority on global warming.
In an interview with The Times, Lord Stern of Brentford said: “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”
Direct emissions of methane from cows and pigs is a significant source of greenhouse gases. Methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas.
Lord Stern, the author of the influential 2006 Stern Review on the cost of tackling global warming, said that a successful deal at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December would lead to soaring costs for meat and other foods that generate large quantities of greenhouse gases.
He predicted that people’s attitudes would evolve until meat eating became unacceptable. “I think it’s important that people think about what they are doing and that includes what they are eating,” he said. “I am 61 now and attitudes towards drinking and driving have changed radically since I was a student. People change their notion of what is responsible. They will increasingly ask about the carbon content of their food.”
Lord Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank and now I. G. Patel Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, warned that British taxpayers would need to contribute about £3 billion a year by 2015 to help poor countries to cope with the inevitable impact of climate change.