Two weeks ago, 300,000 people marched in New York City demanding action on climate change.  The protesters were in agreement with scientists (from NASA to NOAA to the CDC to the NIH to WHO to the AAP — to name just a few), giant corporations (Nike, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Apple and Microsoft, and even ExxonMobil and BP), and governmental agencies including the Departments of Energy, Environmental Protection, Health and Human Services, and Defense.  This is what people in the Pentagon are worried about:

Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.


This week, the American Medical Association devoted part of this week’s issue of its journal (JAMA) to address “Climate Change — Challenges and Opportunities for Global Health.”  The accompanying editorial puts the emphasis on health front and center:

The great gains in well-being in the 20th century occurred because of the concerted effort to improve the health of entire populations. Today, in the early part of the 21st century, it is critical to recognize that climate change poses the same threat to health as the lack of sanitation, clean water, and pollution did in the early 20th century. Understanding and characterizing this threat and educating the medical community, public, and policy makers are crucial if the health of the world’s population is to continue to improve during the latter half of the 21st century.


The recently released National Climate Assessment reviews the threat within the United States:

Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, threats to mental health, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease-carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks. Some of these health impacts are already underway in the United States.


Judith Rodin, President of the century-old Rockefeller Foundation, sees climate change in global terms and gets specific with the health threats:

As the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Summit [last] week calls for greater action, it is critical to understand that climate change has both immediate and future consequences for human health. Already today we are seeing threats to health that range from waterborne diseases in degraded, polluted watersheds to the emergence of novel diseases transmitted from wildlife. Grave future threats include changes in temperature and rainfall patterns that can result in the spread of diseases, such as malaria, dengue, and West Nile virus, to higher latitudes and shifting altitudes. And rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere may cause substantial declines in the nutritional content of key crops.


If you can get beyond the science of why the Earth is warming and how the climate is changing, you can start to get a sense (as the four quotes above capture) of what that means to you and me — to your children and mine. We’ll break it all down tomorrow on The PediaBlog.