A conference in London this past weekend on climate and health concluded that the “alarming speed” of the depletion of natural resources around the world, now being accelerated by climate change, poses “an immediate, growing and grave threat” to health and security everywhere. The medical, academic and military experts predicted imminent increases in hunger, conflict, social unrest and species extinction worldwide.
The conference (whose sponsorship is remarkably unclear in stories by the AP, Reuters and the BBC), was called to consider the impact of climate change on public health, and heard a number of alarming statements from authoritative sources. Among them:
- “Climate change will progressively weaken the Earth’s life support mechanism,” said Tony McMichael, professor of population health at the Australian National University. “Health is not just collateral damage on the side, the risk is central and represents a denouement of all the other effects of climate change.”
- Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, climate and energy security envoy for the UK Ministry of Defence, cited a report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, warning that climate change “will increase the risks of resource shortages, mass migration and civil conflict,” and shift “the tipping point at which conflict occurs.” He said that conflict in the world’s poorest areas, which will be hardest hit by food scarcity and climate change, could make it more difficult and expensive to obtain goods on which countries such as Britain rely. “The price of energy will go up – for us, it’s [the price of] petrol at the pumps – and goods made in southeast Asia, a lot of which we import.”
- “The problem of over-consumption in high income countries has produced an ecological and financial debt,” said Ian Roberts, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “The biggest risk to human health is from the rise in fossil fuel use, causing cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer,” he added.
- Europe will also be at risk from heat waves, floods and more infectious diseases as pests shift to northern latitudes, said Sari Kovats, lead author of the Europe chapter for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment report. “The fact is, there is more evidence that diseases are moving north,” she told Reuters.
- Alejandro Litovsky, founder of the Earth Security Initiative, said that even without the increasing effect of conflict, prices of essential goods are bound to rise. “From the year 2000 onwards, we have been seeing commodity prices climb, and this is not likely to stop,” he said. “It is primarily driven by resource scarcity, and the trends suggest that depletion of these natural resources is unlikely to be reversed in the near future without drastic interventions.” He also said that degradation of natural resources such as forests and freshwater was removing much of the resilience that societies formerly enjoyed.
- Without urgent action, carbon emissions could rise to levels that should cause major alarm, said Chris Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London.
Wait a minute. Let’s look at that last one again. Phrase by phrase.
“Without urgent action…”: The conference called on the governments of the world to do things — such as stop building coal-fired power plants — that, as everyone at the conference and everyone covering the conference well knows, no government is going to do. Moreover, as everyone involved knows, even if all the recommended actions were magically taken today, climate change would grind on for centuries before any mitigating effect became visible. Why do the scientists who know this, and the journalists who should know this, not say so?
“Carbon emissions could rise…”: That is not, in fact, what he said. He said that carbon concentrations in the atmosphere have already increased to catastrophic levels and “at the rate we’re going, carbon emissions will continue to accelerate.”
“Should cause major alarm.” Indeed. The next time I have to tell someone their house is on fire and their life is in danger, I’m going to put it just that way. “Without urgent action, sir, your body temperature could soon reach levels that might cause major alarm.”
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