Climate change and the end of the human race

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A report by Ellen Ratner for TMN.

This week, I spent five days on the Caribbean island of Grenada. My first visit to the island was in 1978. Then, the island had the distinct aroma of nutmeg. A large part of the nutmeg crop was wiped out in a hurricane, Ivan, in 2004. This was before climate change was part of our daily lexicon and became such a hot-button political issue.

With the Zika virus affecting so many pregnant women and rising sea levels, during the Trump Cabinet confirmation hearings, there was little dispute that there has been, in fact, climate change. What took place during the hearings was clearly advised and practiced. Each hearing had the potential Cabinet member not disputing that there was climate change, but clearly saying it is unclear how much is due to humans and how much is due to natural occurring change.

Because of climate change, what researchers have found is that the carrier of some of the destructive viruses, a certain mosquito, not only lives in traditionally warm climates but also lives in areas that have been warming, such as Washington, D.C. The warming climate has allowed these mosquitos to live in areas that have been too cold in the past, and to get more “blood meals,” or bites on humans. This has allowed the spread of viruses such as Zika. A professor at St. George’s in Grenada told me global warming allowed the vector to increase and thereby spread diseases such as Zika and Dengue.

A World Health Organization Report said, “The malaria modeling shows that small temperature increases can greatly affect transmission potential. Globally, temperature increases of 2-3oC would increase the number of people who, in climatic terms, are at risk of malaria by around 3- 5%, i.e. several hundred million. Further, the seasonal duration of malaria would increase in many currently endemic areas.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said this about climate change: “Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, and is projected to rise another 0.5 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit over the next hundred years. Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.

“The evidence is clear. Rising global temperatures have been accompanied by changes in weather and climate. Many places have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts or intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves.

“The planet’s oceans and glaciers have also experienced some big changes – oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising. As these and other changes become more pronounced in the coming decades, they will likely present challenges to our society and our environment.”

Forty-million people live in the Caribbean area, and most of the island nations belong to the Caribbean Community Market, or CARICOM. CARICOM has its own climate-change, goals which are:

  1. Mainstreaming climate-change adaptation strategies into the sustainable development agendas of CARICOM states.
  2. Promote the implementation of specific adaptation measures to address key vulnerabilities in the region.
  3. Promote actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through fossil fuel reduction and conservation, and switching to renewable and cleaner energy sources.
  4. Encouraging action to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems in CARICOM countries to the impacts of a changing climate.
  5. Promoting action to derive social, economic, and environmental benefits through the prudent management of standing forests in CARICOM countries.

Most of us think of the Caribbean as a place to swim, sail and vacation. However, we now know that it is also the harbinger of diseases such as Zika and Dengue. If we are going to stop the spread of these diseases and if we are going to make the changes necessary to provide food and health care to the world’s growing population, then we should use places such as Grenada to develop the systems that will promote the end of sea-level rise and global warming.

When I was growing up, the world’s population was around 4 billion people. The world’s population will be 7.5 billion by 2018. To feed that number of people and provide health care, we will need to address climate change.

If you think climate change is human made, or if you think it is a natural occurrence, it does not matter. Our ability to effect climate change is here. We just need to use the science to help us make sure it does not end the human race.

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