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The Unravelling: Eggs, String, & Climate Change

April 20, 2010 — Here is a short film that encapsulates the urgency of climate change in a different and compelling way.

Written, Edited and Produced by: Michelle Pokorny, Alicia Benz, and Andrew Jaz

Music by: Andrew Jaz and Brittany Benz

Managing infectious disease under climate change

Health experts have called for a proactive, joined-up approach to public health in Europe under a changing climate. A recent study has examined the evidence for the influence of the climate on infectious disease and proposes a new integrated network for environmental and health data.

The impacts of climate change on health in Europe could be considerable, and include deaths and injuries resulting from heat waves, blizzards and floods. It could also lead to changes in the incidence and spread of infectious diseases through impacts on the agents or pathways which transmit disease, such as arthropod vectors (for example, mosquitoes and ticks), rodents, food, water and air.

Although the researchers conclude that there is still much uncertainty, by assessing what is currently understood about the climate’s effects on a wide range of infectious disease, they provide information to help guide adaptation and public health strategies.

For instance, it is understood that some arthropod vectors are shifting their geographical range in line with rising temperatures. This introduces illnesses to new areas, such as Lyme disease, carried by ticks which have progressively moved into more northern parts of Sweden and more mountainous areas of the Czech Republic. This illustrates the importance of integrated meteorological, ecological and health surveillance.

Pest control could become more important. Rodent populations grow rapidly under increasingly common, warm, wet winters and springs, and heat waves can drive rodents indoors creating greater risk of human contact. This in turn increases the risk of transmission of diseases, such as hantavirus, which can cause kidney failure. Plague, spread by rats, could even return under a new favourable climate in central Asia, posing a threat to eastern Europe.

Water managers also need to play a greater public health role. For example, extreme weather can damage ageing water treatment and distribution systems, encouraging the spread of diseases, including campylobacter, through drinking water. Warmer conditions may also favour cholera, which can spread through flooding. Improvements in infrastructure and environmental protection can avoid these negative health consequences of climate change.

Food poisoning caused by temperature-sensitive bacteria, such as Campylobacter spp and Salmonella spp, could also become more prevalent. However, this could be limited by appropriate food handling and storage. Effective food safety campaigns and regulations will therefore be important.

On the basis of the evidence cited in this analysis and expert consultation, a new infrastructure has been proposed by the EU’s European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control1 to address the multidisciplinary and complex nature of managing the impacts of climate change on disease. Called the European Environmental and Epidemiology (E3) Network2, it is envisaged that it will bring together data from a variety of sources and act as a central hub for information, surveillance and technical support.

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Source: Semenza, J.C., Menne, B. (2009). Climate change and infectious diseases in Europe. The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 9(6):365-375.


Theme(s): Climate change and energy, Environment and health

Last decade warmest ever: NASA

Relax News  Sunday, 24 January 2010

The past decade was the warmest ever on Earth, a new analysis of global surface temperatures released by NASA showed Thursday. A view of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro.

The US space agency also found that 2009 was the second-warmest year on record since modern temperature measurements began in 1880. Last year was only a small fraction of a degree cooler than 2005, the warmest yet, putting 2009 in a virtual tie with the other hottest years, which have all occurred since 1998.

According to James Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, global temperatures change due to variations in ocean heating and cooling.

“When we average temperature over five or 10 years to minimize that variability, we find global warming is continuing unabated,” Hansen said in a statement.

A strong La Nina effect that cooled the tropical Pacific Ocean made 2008 the coolest year of the decade, according to the New York-based institute.

In analyzing the data, NASA scientists found a clear warming trend, although a leveling off took place in the 1940s and 1970s.

The records showed that temperatures trended upward by about 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit (0.2 Celsius) per decade over the past 30 years. Average global temperatures have increased a total of about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 Celsius) since 1880.

“That’s the important number to keep in mind,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist with the institute.

“The difference between the second and sixth warmest years is trivial because the known uncertainty in the temperature measurement is larger than some of the differences between the warmest years.”

Last year’s near-record temperatures took place despite an unseasonably cool December in much of North America and a warmer-than-normal Arctic, with frigid air from the Arctic rushing into the region while warmer mid-latitude air shifted northward, the institute said.

The analysis was based on weather data from over a thousand meteorological stations worldwide, satellite observations of sea surface temperatures and Antarctic research station measurements.

But the newly released figures were unlikely to quell a heated climate debate.

The so-called “climategate” controversy that exploded last fall on the eve of UN-sponsored climate talks unleashed a furor over whether the planet was heating and, if so, at what pace.

Hundreds of emails intercepted from scientists at Britain’s University of East Anglia, a top center for climate research, have been seized upon by skeptics as evidence that experts twisted data in order to dramatize global warming.

World powers agreed at the Copenhagen climate summit last month to seek to prevent average global temperatures from rising beyond 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (two Celsius) above pre-industrial levels in order to halt the most devastating effects of global warming.

“There’s a contradiction between the results shown here and popular perceptions about climate trends,” Hansen said. “In the last decade, global warming has not stopped.”