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Death toll from global warming already on the rise

What's the cost of global warming?

Death toll from global warming already on the rise

A report released last week on the human costs of climate change estimates that 400,000 people on our planet died from its consequences in 2010. That number is expected to rise to almost 700,000 by 2030. (AP Photo)
A report released last week on the human costs of climate change estimates that 400,000 people on our planet died from its consequences in 2010. That number is expected to rise to almost 700,000 by 2030. (AP Photo)

By Michael Yudell

What’s the cost of global warming?

A report released last week on the human costs of climate change estimates that 400,000 people on our planet died from its consequences in 2010. That number is expected to rise to almost 700,000 by 2030. Sadly, climate change denialists are likely to ignore these new findings. But they do so at their own peril. Deaths from diarrheal disease, hunger, meningitis, illnesses related to heat and cold or carried by insects, not to mention a plethora of environmental disasters (flooding, hurricanes) are all increasing as the planet warms.

The report, Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of a Hot Planet, was written by a team of scientists and policy makers from around the globe for the Climate Vulnerable Forum of DARA International, an organization that says it is committed to improving the quality and effectiveness of aid for vulnerable populations suffering from conflict, disasters and climate change.” The forum is made up of countries around the globe that are most vulnerable to the environmental and economic impacts of climate change.

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Another byproduct of climate change is economic losses – which, according to the Climate Vulnerability Monitor,  are “estimated close to 1% of the global GDP for the year 2010, or 700 billion dollars.” The report says that these losses will be driven by an increase in weather-driven events like drought, floods, storms, and wildfires, as well as changes to the earth’s environment like desertification and sea-level rise. 

No model is completely accurate – it is a prediction, after all – and questions about the over- or under-inflation of this one will likely be argued over on cable news and debated in the scientific literature.

Meanwhile, our climate is changing, and the Climate Vulnerability Monitor is another in a long and growing line of wake-up calls to a public that doesn’t seem to notice. Making matters worse, American politicians seem completely disengaged from the issue, if not openly hostile to it. As Mark Hertsgaard pointed out Thursday in The Daily Beast, “climate change continues to be the great unmentionable on Capitol Hill and the presidential campaign trail.”

It was 50 years ago this week that scientist Rachel Carson published her classic work Silent Spring, a book that exposed the hazards of chemical pesticides and helped galvanize the environmental movement, arguably preventing catastrophe. We’ve seen similar efforts to mobilize the public on the dangers of climate change. Bill McKibben’s 1989 classic The End of Nature was the first popular attempt to do so, and McKibben has worked tirelessly since to educate the public on this matter. Same for Al Gore, whose 2006 An Inconvenient Truth also served as a popular overview of the crisis. Recent polling indicates that 70 percent of Americans now believe the climate is changing.

When the public’s acceptance of a changing climate will finally spur action is anybody’s guess. But the longer we wait, the more we all suffer. How many will have to die before we start paying attention?


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About this blog

What is public health — and why does it matter?

Through prevention, education, and intervention, public health practitioners - epidemiologists, health policy experts, municipal workers, environmental health scientists - work to keep us healthy.

It’s not always easy. Michael Yudell, Jonathan Purtle, and other contributors tell you why.

Michael Yudell, PhD, MPH Associate Professor, Drexel University School of Public Health
Jonathan Purtle, DrPH, MPH Research Director, Drexel Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice
Janet Golden, PhD Professor of history, Rutgers University-Camden
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