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The influence of global warming on natural disasters and their public health outcomes

James H. Diaz, MD, MPH-TM, DrPH

Abstract


With a documented increase in average global surface temperatures of 0.6ºC since 1975, Earth now appears to be warming due to a variety of climatic effects, most notably the cascading effects of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities. There remains, however, no universal agreement on how rapidly, regionally, or asymmetrically the planet will warm or on the true impact of global warming on natural disasters and public health outcomes. Most reports to date of the public health impact of global warming have been anecdotal and retrospective in design and have focused on the increase in heat-stroke deaths following heat waves and on outbreaks of airborne and arthropod-borne diseases following tropical rains and flooding that resulted from fluctuations in ocean temperatures. The effects of global warming on rainfall and drought, tropical cyclone and tsunami activity, and tectonic and volcanic activity will have far-reaching public health effects not only on environmentally associated disease outbreaks but also on global food supplies and population movements. As a result of these and other recognized associations between climate change and public health consequences, many of which have been confounded by deficiencies in public health infrastructure and scientific debates over whether climate changes are spawned by atmospheric cycles or anthropogenic influences, the active responses to progressive climate change must include combinations of economic, environmental, legal, regulatory, and, most importantly, public health measures.

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References


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5055/ajdm.2007.0007

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