Richard G. Petty, MD

Global Warming

My interest in global warming is three-fold: the first is scientific: is this all just a political bandwagon, driven by a misunderstanding of normal climatic cycles? Secondly, if it is a real phenomenon, then we have a responsibility to future generations: a part of what we refer to as a central philosophical plank: “Legacy.” Third is the impact of global warming on patterns of illness, in particular infectious and environmental pathogens, and how we can build resistance and resilience to them.

Some of the more recent evidence had a good airing on the Scientific American website.

My own view is that global is now clearly proven: I have just seen too much evidence, from walking the balmy streets of Stockholm in dead of winter when the temperatures should have been tens of degrees lower to an analysis of changing patterns not just of temperature, but of disease. The warming is a consequence of a lack of balance and harmony: too much Yang activity overwhelming the Yin necessary to stabilize the world. Or, in the language of spiral dynamics, too many people and social structures being stuck at the levels of the Red and Orange Memes.

The only thing that I find a little irksome is the number of people who lecture us about global warming while continuing to engage in all kinds of activities that contribute to the problem. Your humble reporter first became interested in installing solar panels while still living in England. Not practical in a country where once the sun rarely shone very much, and where the panels used to be prohibitively expensive.

We plan to install some next year, while continuing drastically to conserve other resources. And to try and anticipate the impact of global climate change on illness.

Climate Change and Your Health

When I hear the continuing arguments about climate change, I often fancy that I can in the far distance hear Nero playing his lyre while Rome burns. In March the BBC reported faster than expected warming of the Antarctic over the last 30 years. This report was based on a paper in the journal Science by a team from the British Antarctic Survey.

Gradual climate change is drawing particular attention in Europe, where the climate is exquisitely dependent on the Gulf Stream. In some places records have been kept for centuries, and there seem to have been genuine changes in a short space of time. A few years ago I was in Stockholm in the week before Christmas, and it was so warm that I was able to walk around in my shirtsleeves. That made it the warmest December in almost 800 years. People notice things like that, and governments and populations are eager to do something before the Arctic is reduced to a puddle.

Even if we are just seeing a natural climatic cycle, the consequences could be disastrous. Leaving aside the obvious matter of a rise in sea level, there is also the impact of global climate change on health. Earlier this year the BBC reported a speech by Professor Paul Hunter from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, to the Society of Applied Microbiology at the Royal Society in London. He pointed out that global warming, with hotter summers and more frequent and heavy rainfall and storms, would create the right conditions for an increase in food poisoning and other gastrointestinal upsets caused by microorganisms.

Global warming could also create conditions favorable for a return of malaria to the United Kingdom. Professor Hunter has published papers on this important topic before. He is no alarmist, and his work underscores the way in which our environment and we are closely interlinked, and even small climatic changes may have major effects on illness.

We could discuss this topic in a great deal of detail. Suffice to say that it is more important than ever for all of us to get into the habit of washing our hands, ensuring the cleanliness of food, and even more so of the water that we use, and that we do all that we can to build our resilience.

There is also another matter of equal importance, and that is the dwindling supply of fresh water around the world. The number of us is growing fast and our water use is growing even faster. A third of the world’s population now lives in water-stressed countries, and it is expected that this will rise to two-thirds by the year 2025. The cruelty of the situation is that there is altogether more than enough water available for everyone’s basic needs. The water is in the wrong places and much of it is unusable.

The United Nations recommends that people need a minimum of 50 liters of water a day for drinking, washing, cooking and sanitation. Global water consumption rose six-fold between 1900 and 1995 – more than double the rate of population growth – and goes on growing as farming, industry and domestic demand all increase.

As important as quantity is quality – with pollution increasing in some areas, the amount of useable water declines. Each year, more than five million people die from waterborne diseases, which is 10 times the number killed in wars around the globe. Most of the victims are children.

Seventy percent of the water used worldwide is used for agriculture. Much more will be needed if we are to feed the world’s growing population, which is predicted to rise from about six billion today to 8.9 billion by 2050. And consumption will further increase as more people expect Western-style lifestyles and diets. Here is a useful statistic: one kilogram of grain-fed beef needs at least 15 cubic meter of water, while a kilo of cereals needs only up to three cubic meters. Many futurists are already predicting that water will become as much of a strategic issue as oil is today, with wars being fought over the water supply.

As of today, we should all start thinking about ways in which we can reduce our own water consumption and make provision to collect and purify water ourselves.

“Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” — Charles Dudley Warner (American Author, 1829-1900)

Technorati tags: , , , ,

logo logo logo logo logo logo