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Changing Planet, Changing Health

Changing Planet, Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do about It

Paul R. Epstein
Dan Ferber
Foreword by Jeffrey Sachs
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Changing Planet, Changing Health
    Book Description:

    Climate change is now doing far more harm than marooning polar bears on melting chunks of ice-it is damaging the health of people around the world. Brilliantly connecting stories of real people with cutting-edge scientific and medical information,Changing Planet, Changing Healthbrings us to places like Mozambique, Honduras, and the United States for an eye-opening on-the-ground investigation of how climate change is altering patterns of disease. Written by a physician and world expert on climate and health and an award-winning science journalist, the book reveals the surprising links between global warming and cholera, malaria, lyme disease, asthma, and other health threats. In clear, accessible language, it also discusses topics including Climategate, cap-and-trade proposals, and the relationship between free markets and the climate crisis. Most importantly,Changing Planet, Changing Healthdelivers a suite of innovative solutions for shaping a healthy global economic order in the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94896-9
    Subjects: Physics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. x-xii)
    Jeffrey D. Sachs

    This is a book about complexity—the complexity of humanity’s predicament at the start of the twenty-first century. The predicament is easy to state, hard to understand, and perhaps hardest to solve. With nearly seven billion people on the planet producing and consuming at an unprecedented rate, humanity is deranging the world’s ecosystems and threatening the survival of our own species and millions of other species with which we share the planet. How we are doing that is a scientific detective story of the first order, told with brilliance and relish by one of the world’s great ecological detectives. What...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)
    Paul R. Epstein

    On January 31, 2002, ominous crevasses widened in the Larsen B ice shelf, a mass of sea ice the size of Rhode Island located along the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Then, over several weeks, it shattered, sending thousands of icebergs into the sea.

    The ice shelf, thicker than the length of two football fields, had formed 11,500 years ago during the last ice age, and for most of the time since then, it had been melting ever so slowly from below. By the twentieth century just a few dozen meters of ice had melted, and the ice shelf...

  6. 1 Mozambique
    (pp. 6-28)

    My first epidemic began quietly, as most epidemics do. It was May 1978, and I was working as a physician at the Central Hospital of Beira, Mozambique, which was the only hospital for hundreds of miles. One morning I was summoned to attend to a dangerously debilitated man in his thirties. The man’s family had brought him a great distance from themato,or countryside. The ailing man was so severely dehydrated that when I gently pinched his skin, it tented, meaning it retained the profile of a small tent where I’d pulled it away from the underlying tissues. His...

  7. 2 The Mosquito’s Bite
    (pp. 29-61)

    In 1991, several Harvard faculty members, including Dick Levins, Uwe Brinkman, Mary Wilson, Andy Spielman, Richard Cash, and I, invited other colleagues to join what we called the New Disease Group, which met weekly to discuss the causes of emerging and reemerging diseases that had begun to afflict the world. We sensed that changes in the global environment might be contributing to the rise in disease; thus we cast our net wide in deciding who we should include. Participants and guest speakers were experts in fields as diverse as ecology, entomology, epidemiology, infectious diseases, population biology, mathematical modeling, international health,...

  8. 3 Sobering Predictions
    (pp. 62-79)

    In the first two weeks of June 1992, thousands of people, including 108 heads of state, converged upon Rio de Janeiro for a scientific conference, formally the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, that ultimately came to be known simply as the Earth Summit. The conference was unprecedented for its size and ambitions. The goals of this international body were to find new ways to halt the destruction of the Earth’s natural resources and reduce climatechanging pollution. Part of that agenda, by necessity, included a need to examine and reimagine world economic development.

    Eric Chivian, a Harvard colleague who...

  9. 4 Every Breath You Take
    (pp. 80-100)

    By the time the IPCC issued its second report in 1995, many scientists, including me, believed the evidence was clear that the climate had begun to change, and that the scientific panel should say so.

    The first IPCC report, published in 1990, had laid the foundation for the study of climate change but stopped short of stating that climate change had begun. Instead, the report’s authors had concluded that certain proof of humaninduced climate change “would not be likely for a decade or more.”

    By the time of its second report, many of my colleagues and I believed the IPCC...

  10. 5 Harvest of Trouble
    (pp. 101-121)

    If there were a heaven for biologists, it would probably look a lot like Woods Hole, Massachusetts, a small seaside village situated on a point of land in southernmost Cape Cod.

    Not far offshore, the warm Gulf Stream mixes with cooler northern currents, breeding a rare diversity of sea life that attracted the biologists who founded the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). Today, the MBL is the oldest, and arguably the most illustrious, private marine laboratory in the western hemisphere. Each summer, biologists from all corners of the globe converge on the MBL to work long hours in its aging laboratories...

  11. 6 Sea Change
    (pp. 122-137)

    In the salt air of Woods Hole, it’s natural to ponder marine life, and at our 1993 conference at the Marine Biological Laboratory, I paid close attention when it was Ken Sherman’s turn to present. Sherman is an innovative ecologist and oceanographer who works for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service in Narragansett, Rhode Island. In the mid-1980s, Sherman and his colleague, Lewis Alexander of the University of Rhode Island, came to the conclusion that the world’s oceans were made up of dozens of large zones that function as semi-independent ecosystems. These large marine ecosystems, as...

  12. 7 Forests in Trouble
    (pp. 138-160)

    As the 1990s progressed, it became clear to those of us in public health that a wave of infectious diseases was striking humans and many other forms of life. Humans faced multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, Ebola, HIV, and dozens of other new pathogens. Crops were becoming infested with insects and infected with emerging viruses. Dolphins, whales, and seals were suffering from measles-like viruses, while fish were going belly up en masse with increasing frequency. Even trees were in trouble.

    Throughout the 1990s, I’d been trying to forge a new synthesis that would explain how a changing world could breed a wave of...

  13. 8 Storms and Sickness
    (pp. 161-178)

    To scientists who were paying close attention in the spring of 1997, conditions in the Pacific Ocean portended trouble. The Pacific’s easterly trade winds had piled up warm water in the western Pacific, and sea levels near Indonesia were a full foot and a half higher than those in the eastern Pacific off Peru. Warm air was steaming off the warm water. Climate modelers had taken reams of data from a network of scientific buoys and satellites, fed them into their models, and run the models on supercomputers. The models revealed that an El Niño was brewing.

    In September 1997,...

  14. 9 The Ailing Earth
    (pp. 179-199)

    The 1997–98 El Niño that prompted our workshop in Mozambique turned out to be the most powerful of the twentieth century. By the time it drew mercifully to a close in May 1998, the extreme weather that came with it had caused at least $33 billion in property damage and killed thousands. The Horn of Africa had received forty times its usual rainfall, destroying roads, isolating villages, and triggering a series of epidemics. Reports of malaria spiked. More than eighty-five thousand people contracted cholera in East Africa, far more than previous years, and more than four thousand people died....

  15. 10 Gaining Green by Going Green
    (pp. 200-222)

    The view from the Rüschlikon Centre for Global Dialogue is breathtaking. Looking from the pavilion past manicured hedges and a spacious stone patio where visitors dine, one can see a panoramic view of the blue waters of Lake Zurich, with snowcapped Alps beyond. The effect on visitors to this gorgeous conference center, built on the grounds of a grand Swiss villa, was intentional, for visitors are invited to the center to explore global issues and think thoughts as sweeping as the view.

    In June 2004, the global reinsurance company Swiss Re, which owns the retreat center, hosted one hundred scientists,...

  16. 11 Healthy Solutions
    (pp. 223-249)

    Spend enough time pondering climate change, and the magnitude of the challenge can begin to overwhelm anyone. There’s a daunting array of numbers and trends, choices and consequences. Much of what we do as modern humans contributes to the problem, little by little by little. Our appetite for high-carbon energy has unquestionably put the world and its inhabitants at risk, and we appear to be hurtling toward a very unsettling conclusion. But we must not lose sight of a very simple and reassuring fact: we have already invented virtually everything we need to get us out of this crisis. The...

  17. 12 Of Rice and Tractors
    (pp. 250-271)

    Throughout this book I’ve described how climate change harms human health and how it menaces humanity. To maintain the health of populations, we should prevent health problems before they arise, and to do that, we urgently need to address the root causes of climate change—deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels.

    Today, we know far more about the devastating impacts of burning gas, oil, and coal than we once did. We have workable alternative energy technologies available, and more efficient ones in the research pipeline. All of which raises an essential question: Knowing what we now know, why do...

  18. 13 Rewriting the Rules
    (pp. 272-294)

    By the time the economy crashed in 2008, the Earth’s climate system was also in critical condition. Climate change had begun to deliver more frequent droughts, heavier downpours, heat waves, and wildfires. The world’s glaciers and ice sheets were dwindling, and permafrost was melting. Sea level was rising at more than one inch per decade, threatening low-lying island nations and coastal areas worldwide. Temperatures were well on the way to the 2.0 °C (3.6°F) change that scientists generally agreed would be catastrophic. Carbon dioxide had risen to levels 40 percent greater than before the industrial revolution, and they were heading...

  19. Epilogue
    (pp. 295-300)

    On July 15, 2010, eighty-six long days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and crude oil began gushing from the Macondo well into mile-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers placed a seventy-five-ton cap on the seafloor, at long last stanching the flow. By then eleven men had been killed, seventeen more had been injured, and oil sheens and floating tar balls had fouled the Gulf. BP had sprayed 800,000 gallons of potentially toxic oil-dispersing chemicals on the sea surface and spewed 360,000 gallons underwater, in effect turning the Gulf of Mexico into a massive science experiment,...

  20. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 301-306)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 307-346)
  22. Index
    (pp. 347-355)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 356-356)