Thursday, June 4, 2009

Climate Change and Health: Extreme Weather Events

Throughout this series we've talked about a number of ways that climate change effects human health. Anyone familiar with the topic of climate change has heard the horror stories about the catastrophic events that are in store for out planet if we don't curb carbon emissions. Today we're going to look at how those extreme weather events could alter human health.

A few recent examples of extreme weather events include the tornadoes in Oklahoma in February - outside of regular tornado season - and the floods in North Dakota in March, caused by heavy rains and blizzards, which President Obama cited as an example of the need to act on global warming. Additionally, we are likely to see more intense and frequent hurricanes, windstorms, and mudslides.

A particularly horrific example of how climate change can intensify natural disasters is the wildfires in Australia. Though the fires were caused by arson, they were spurred on – at least in part – by global warming, which had caused excessive drought and heat in the region.

The NASA map below shows land surface temperature across Australia from January 25 to February 1, 2009 compared to the average mid-summer temperatures the continent experienced between 2000-2008. During this time period, temperatures differed up to 10 degrees Celsius: cooler in blue regions, normal temperatures in white regions, and hotter temperatures in red regions.

As we approach hurricane season (Cyclone Aila has already made landfall) and the dog days of summer more and more people will be talking about climate change. The question is, what changes will we fight for to help save our planet and our health?

For more on this topic, check out these Science Progress resources: Global Ailing, The Human Toll of Climate Change, and this map.

This is Part 7 of 7 in our Climate Change and Health series.
Part 1 - Climate Change and Health
Part 2 - Heat-Related Issues
Part 3 - Malaria
Part 4 - Lyme Disease
Part 5 - Mental Health
Part 6 - Water-borne Disease
Part 7 - Extreme Weather Events

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