The Impact of Global Warming on Health and Mortality

W. R. Keatinge, MA, MB, BCHIR, PHD, FRCP; G. C. Donaldson, BA, PHD


South Med J. 2004;97(11) 

In This Article

Wider Implications of Global Warming

It might be supposed that the wider hazards presented by global warming would bring action to halt it, and so avoid the need to deal with its effects on people. In practice, this is unlikely to happen. The most serious long-term hazard of global warming is that melting of the ice caps and warming of the oceans may cause flooding. It has been estimated that the sea level could rise by 34 cm by the year 2100.[32] This would have serious consequences in some coastal cities. Further warming over several centuries could cause much larger rises, with massive flooding of heavily populated regions. It would also cause climate changes affecting the habitability of many parts of the world and might increase net mortality rates in some tropical countries.

However, the extent and rate of such effects is still very controversial, and stopping them by halting the burning of fossil fuels would carry a high cost to the standard of living of a growing world population. As a result, even acceptance of the Kyoto Protocol, which would only slightly reduce global warming, is still uncertain. Wind, wave, and solar power could only be a partial substitute for fossil fuels. Nuclear power could make a larger contribution, but its risks would have to be accepted. In the medium term, the likelihood is that despite some measures of this kind, substantial global warming will continue and will require action to deal with its effects on health. Fortunately, effective action is available.


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