13 July 2007

The Four Horsemen

Now, I'm personally not one for the Bible or religion, but it would seem that the traditional Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Pestilence,War, Famine and Death have been unleashed upon the Earth with climate change. Climate change impacts are not simply changes to the weather which will bring some minor inconveniences and annoyances to our existence. Rather, the fabric of our society and the survival of our species are potentially at stake. These effects are becoming apparent now.

Pestilence: South-east Asia Grapples With Dengue -- Inter Press Service News Agency

The surge in the number of dengue cases has already prompted health officials to say that 2007 may rank as one of the worst years recorded for a disease that is endemic from Burma to Brunei.

‘’There is a risk we are heading towards an epidemic situation in the region,’’ says Dr. John Ehrenberg, advisor for malaria and other vector-borne diseases at the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Western Pacific regional office. ‘’We are seeing a serious increase in the number of cases relative to previous years in Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Its not just the countries above. Indonesia and and Thailand are reporting increases in the number of reported cases and deaths. Why the upswing now?
The WHO attributes the current increase in the number of dengue cases to climate change. The deaths due to dengue fever are among the 77,000 deaths recorded annually in the Asia-Pacific region linked to global warning, the Geneva-based health agency said at a recent conference in Malaysia.

‘’We have now reached a critical stage in which global warming has already seriously impacted lives and health, and this problem will pose an even greater threat to mankind in the coming decades if we fail to act now,’’ said Shigeru Omi, WHO regional director for Western Pacific.
The story also suggests that the worst epidemic on record was observed in 1998.

Global Warring: Climate Change Could Be The Root Of Armed Conflicts - Science Daily

Climate change, and the resulting shortage of ecological resources, could be to blame for armed conflicts in the future, according to David Zhang from the University of Hong Kong and colleagues. Their research, which highlights how temperature fluctuations and reduced agricultural production explain warfare frequency in eastern China in the past, has been published online in Springer’s journal Human Ecology.

But we didn't really need a study to know that. It is happening already in Darfur, Sudan, along with Famine: Environmental Degradation Triggering Tensions and Conflict in Sudan -- United Nations Environment Programme press release.

The most serious concerns are land degradation, desertification and the spread of deserts southwards by an average of 100km over the past four decades...

...[T]here is mounting evidence of long-term regional climate change in several parts of the country. This is witnessed by a very irregular but marked decline in rainfall, for which the clearest indications are found in Kordofan and Darfur states.

In Northern Darfur for example precipitation has fallen by a third in the past 80 years says the report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and its Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch.

The scale of climate change as recorded in Northern Darfur is almost unprecedented, and its impacts are closely linked to conflict in the region, as desertification has added significantly to the stress on traditional agricultural and pastoral livelihoods.

In addition, "forecast climate change is expected to further reduce food production due to declining rainfall and increased variability, particularly in the Sahel belt. A drop in crop yields of up to 70 per cent is forecast for the most vulnerable areas," says the Sudan Post-Conflict Assessment.
All of these, of course, are bringing the fourth horseman, Death. Another track it is taking: Death Rates Will Rise Because Of Global Warming, Researchers Warn - Science Daily
Global warming will cause more deaths in summer because of higher temperatures but these will not be offset by fewer deaths in milder winters finds an analysis published online ahead of print in Occupational and Environment Medicine.
Again, this one has already been observed in 2003 European heat wave, which claimed 35 000 lives.

While we most likely cannot avoid all adverse effects at this late date, we can act to reduce our emissions while continuing to grow the economy (from Science Daily). The real question is: can we get the Deniers to at least act as if climate change is a possibility and take appropriate steps to reduce the effects on ourselves and future generations.

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