Friday, March 28, 2008

Climate Change--Part 1: Human Health—Friday Feature

This is the first in a new series I’ll be posting that deals directly with climate change, a topic of great controversy among scientists still and one meriting discussion among us here. Okay, I lie: I posted several articles already that touch on this subject. I touched upon the chaotic nature and interrelatedness of climate and weather in my post on chaos theory. In two blog posts, “Climate Change & the Nobel Peace Prize” and “Blog Action Day—Truth”, I devote lengthy discussion to the dedicated work of Al Gore, his film, “the Inconvenient Truth” and generate lively discussion on the topic (check out the comments pages!). In “Tornadoes Connected to Global Waming?” I described my own personal experience with the historic unseasonal tornadoes in the US earlier this year and how some believe this is related to climate change and is a sign of more to come. In “Polar Cities” I describe Dan Bloom’s concept for surviving the aftermath of global warming and explore the need for paradigm changes. Then in “The Complexity of Nature” I discuss how perspective plays a role in our perception of both our future and that of our planet.

I left off with a discussion—actually a series of questions—related to “scale” and whether or not we should intervene, when everything that we are and do is PART of the global network already. Is it simply that we are being hubristic once again by seeing things from a strictly anthropomorphic view? Perhaps, it isn’t our place to succeed, but rather to secede to something more suited to what is yet to come… I’d like to think that it may be neither, rather that these global events will hasten our own evolution into a higher form. But I’m getting way ahead of my own series. Because today’s post is entirely from a human’s viewpoint and concerned with our own well being. Much of the information here is from an article written by the medical community in Nova Scotia, Canada. I start with some very interesting statistics. For instance, did you know that:

  • Close to 8% of all non-accidental deaths in Canada are caused by air pollution resulting from by-products of burning fossil fuels.
  • Following smog days, hospital admissions for respiratory problems increase by 6%, admissions of infants with respiratory problems increase by 15%.
  • Forecasts show that without reductions in fossil fuel consumption, in 20 years there will be a 60% increase in particulate emissions with a corresponding increase in respiratory illnesses, hospitalization and health care costs.
A report by the US National Academies’ National Research Council, Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises, warns that people can expect “climate surprises” in the form of “large, abrupt and unwelcome regional or global climatic events,” including drought, floods, extreme heat, hurricanes, (how about unseasonal tornadoes?...) and rising sea levels. Dr. Paul Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, says the report indicates that “we’ve underestimated the rate of this change, we’ve underestimated the sensitivity of biological systems, we’ve underestimated the cost of global warming.”

Epstein and other authors published a paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal where they suggested that the direct effects of climate change to humanity include: illness and deaths from heat waves, drought, floods, storms and the breakdown of systems in the aftermath of weather disasters. Indirect effects would include decreased crop productivity owing to pests and climate change, changing water availability, lower air quality, rising sea levels and animal-based diseases appearing in regions in which they had previously been unheard of.

I dedicate this Friday Feature page to the stellar websites and blogs devoted to educating us, challenging us and guiding us on climate change, some of which appear below. Please check them out and let me know of any sites you think should be included that I’ve neglected to include.

The David Suzuki Foundation on Climate Change
Environment Canada’s page on Climate Change
The International Institute for Sustainable Development on Climate Change and Energy
Climate of Our Future
Climate Ark
Real Climate
Climate Feedback
Climate Change Action
Talk Climate Change
Global Climate Change
Global Warming: early warning signs
Global Warming Blog
Climate 411
Climate Crisis
Global Warming Futurist

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Some of those statistics are quite surprising. Well researched, Nina.

sfgirl said...

Aren't they, Jean-Luc! Makes you think, doesn't it?...If we translated our environmental impacts into "health dollars" spent in days off work, medicine, doctor bills, would that change how people responded?...

Mark said...

Great post& thanks for the link!

(Mark @ TalkClimateChange)

metapsyche said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
metapsyche said...

Climate change also has a psychological effect: Solastalgia - sadness caused by environmental destruction.
Here is a short thread on it.

sfgirl said...

You're welcome, Mark! Great blog! Thanks for the link, Metapsyche! I'll have a look...

sfgirl said...

Thanks, Metapsyche, for directing me to that thread. As you can see in my next post, I discuss solastalgia... Thanks again! Here's the link:

kathleenmaher said...

Thanks for putting it altogether SF girl. It hadn't occurred to me how vulnerable Nova Scotia must be.
Like many US citizen, I tend to focus mostly on the terrible things this country perpetuates and naively suppose we'll be sorriest first.
But that would depend on life being fair, wouldn't it?
Taking measures to stop using plastic, walking or biking (no more rollerb lades for me, I'm afraid) and resorting to the subway only when necessary, I can only sigh at how pathetic my little efforts are. Meanwhile, consumer items all appear to have assumed a definantely double or triple plastic packaging and every skyscraper in the city burns lights in every window every night.

sfgirl said...

Yes... all seems trivial compared with the huge things. But, it is all connected. It's connected to how we think, the paradigm of our society and our culture. That's what must change and your efforts are a reflection of a paradigm shift, a decision to think differently. That is what Al Gore's latest initiative is all about too: to educate the public and incite change in how we view ourselves and our environment. That takes time, precious time that some say we no longer have, but I say we do and every little thing helps. We must remain optimistic and determined. Otherwise we have already lost.

Trailowner said...

Hi Nina:

I'd like to see your take on the article in Salon today --
about the idea that geoengineering could reverse the warming trend in a matter of years.

Personally, I don't feel inclined to trust the people who nearly dried up the Caspian and the Aral, and created the whole greenhouse gas mess in the first place, with a go-ahead to change any more climates.


sfgirl said...

Not only am I very skeptical (nothing that's easy ever really works) but I feel dismayed by these sorts of mind-limited constructs. The use of a geoengineering-fix sounds too much like an excuse to go on as we always do while someone else cleans up the mess we leave behind.Solutions to climate change are not to be found in technological devices alone, no matter how clever (and this one is clever... sort of). A serious paradigm change is what we need and a serious look at ourselves and our responsibilities, each and every one of us. It's time to grow up.

Trailowner said...

I rather think the paradigm exists, it's based around general system theory, but too many of our working scientists are too deeply wedded to the old ideas of unidirectional linear causality and reductionism.

How can you understand the complexity of the interactions of reality if you isolate each factor into its own closed box? I believe our hundred year out of date medical thinking and its so-called 'side-effects' are a good example of the limits.

sfgirl said...

Exceptionally good example, Chris! Yes... sad too. It begs for a "new science", pardon me for describing it as "feminine science". I call it that, because of the "feminine" nature of inter-relational, holistic thinking. What some call the "sacred feminine". We desperately need this new paradigm in science and general thinking. A new zeitgeist...

Adam May said...

wow some of those figures seem unreal, lets hope the source isn't reliable :D

A book (which i won't post a link to you can google the name if you want to find more or ignore if not :) as i don't want to appear as a spammer) which some users may find interesting to read is "The Fire Dogs of Climate Change" by Sally Andrew. I found it to be a very interesting read and a nice change from the usual climate change books available.

- Adam

SF Girl said...

Thank you, Adam. The book by Sally Andrew looks intriguing and just what's needed to compell us toward positive change. I will look for it in the bookstores or order it from Amazon. Here is the URL for a description for those curious about it.

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