Global Warming And The Spread Of Disease And Famine

Global Warming And The Spread Of Disease And Famine

Michael Oppenheimer (Professor, Princeton University) gives expert video advice on: Which diseases are likely to spread more rapidly due to global warming?; How does the growing world population affect global warming? and more...

Which diseases are likely to spread more rapidly due to global warming?

Diseases that are carried by certain insects or vectors can survive most effectively in warmer climates and are inhibited by very cold weather. They are more likely to flourish in a warmer world. We're talking about diseases like malaria, Yellow fever, Dengue fever, maybe West Nile virus. These are diseases that are carried by insects; insects that have a tough time surviving in the North now, but whose life will be made easier as the world warms. Therefore, dealing with those diseases is likely to become more of a problem for societies that thought that they got rid of malaria like ours, 150-200 years ago.

How might global warming affect the number of mosquitoes at higher elevations?

The tops of mountains are cooler than the base of mountains, of course. As the world warms, the warmer temperatures will creep up the sides of the mountains and that would allow mosquitoes and other insects that want the warmer weather to crawl up to higher elevations.

How does the growing world population affect global warming?

There are three fundamental drivers of the emissions that are causing global warming: Number 1, the size of our economy; Number 2, the technologies we use; Number 3, the number of people using those technologies. Obviously, the rate of population growth is an important factor in pushing up the levels of greenhouse gas emissions. It's perfectly possible for the world to have continued economic growth, but to use different technologies and to slow the rate of population, in order to put less pressure on the level of greenhouse gases. In fact, we could sustain quite well the size of the current global population, or even a bigger one, if everybody were being greener; greener in the cars they drive, greener in their agricultural practices, greener in every facet of their lives. That's the key to solving the problem of global warming.

What is "sprawl" and how does it affect global climate change?

Sprawl is the tendency of people, particularly in this country, to want to live in less and less dense neighborhoods, away from urban cores. It's a problem because it usually implies more moving about, more transportation to get to jobs, and more driving your car to do your shopping. Sprawl and the reduction of density in population brings with it, apparently, further build-up of the greenhouse gasses. It's probably environmentally good to be trying to live in denser and denser habitation.

How does the growing world population affect forests?

As the population grows, people (particularly in developing countries) look for places to live; they look for places to grow food, and that means pushing into areas that previously hadn't been used for agriculture. In the process, a lot of forests get whacked down. Even in this country, people like to live in remote areas; people want second homes. All of that is pressure on the forests. It's unfortunate because not only are forests quite important for their own ecological value, but if you cut and burn forests - clear them for agriculture, clear them to build the suburban home - you're adding greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. In the current buildup of greenhouse gasses, it's about 20% a result of deforestation.

How will global warming affect farming in "Third World" countries?

Perhaps the most threatening change due to global warming are shifts in precipitation. As low latitude or developing countries experience global warming, they'll also probably experience in many cases reductions in precipitation and more extended drought. That combination will mean drier soils, less water available to drink and less water for agriculture. This could threaten food supplies in certain areas.

What is "carbon footprint"?

A carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of greenhouse gasses that you put up by the car you drive, the home you heat, the air conditioning you use, the light bulbs that you have in your house, and the appliances you plug in. In this country, most electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels; that is coal or natural gas. Your carbon footprint measures how much that electricity use in your home, for instance, causes carbon dioxide in a power plant to go up into the atmosphere. Your carbon footprint also measures how much the burning of gasoline in your car, which creates carbon dioxide out of the tailpipe, causes a build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Your carbon footprint might measure the amount of influence you have on carbon dioxide through your air travel, because aeroplanes burn oil based products as well. So, through a carbon footprint you can get a cumulative picture of what your effect on global warming is; what your contribution is, and that way you can start thinking of how to reduce it, measure for measure, and action for action.