It's Hot Outside - Climate Change


Wilson_edited-1(08.08.13) I have taken at every opportunity over the past year to describe what are in my opinion the three big concerns facing the medical profession and the World Medical Association (WMA) now and in the future. These are the moral imperative of ethics in medicine, the challenge of non-communicable disease/social determinants of health and the threat of climate change. 

Sitting here at home in Winter Park, Florida, US, I am reminded of one of those - the threat of climate change. In a region where the temperatures climb into the 90’s Fahrenheit daily I do not need convincing that its hot outside. It is hot in Florida every year in August. Safely enjoying the ambience of air-conditioning I like that about Florida. However it is not just hot in Florida. Worldwide we are experiencing global warming. And that is causing climate change with dire health consequences. 

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provided a reminder of this reality in a report issued August 2 stating, “2012 was one of the 10 warmest years on record globally”. This annual peer-reviewed report from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center is titled “State of the Climate in 2012”. It was complied by 384 scientists from 52 countries. “It provides an update on climate indicators, notable weather events and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on land, sea, ice and sky”.

According to acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D. “Many of the events that made 2012 such an interesting year are part of the long-term trends we see in a changing and varying climate”. The following are the events listed in the report. 

  • Warm temperature trends continue near earth’s surface with 2012 being among the 10 warmest years on record.
  • The Artic continues to warm with sea ice extent reaching a record low.
  • Antarctica sea ice extent reached a record high.
  • Sea surface temperatures were among the 11 warmest on record.
  • Ocean heat content remained near record levels with increases even in the deep ocean.
  • Sea level reached a record high in 2012 and has been increasing at an average rate of 3.2 mm per year.
  • Ocean salinity continued to increase.
  • Tropical cyclone activity was near average.
  • Greenhouse gas concentrations including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide continued to rise and for the first time exceeded 400 ppm at some Arctic observational sites.
  • Cool temperatures continued in earth’s lower stratosphere (six to ten miles above the surface) due to increased greenhouse gases at lower levels. 

NOAA is an agency of the US Department of Commerce. Its mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts; to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. 

In blogs 16 October 2012 and 16 April 2013 I described the effects of climate change on health and WMA policy on the physicians role in helping our patients adapt and in developing public policy to mitigate climate change. The URL for the WMA Declaration of Delhi on Health and Climate Change adopted by the WMA General Assembly in New Delhi, India, 2009 is: http://www.wma.net/en/30publications/10policies/c5/ 

WMA President Cecil. B. Wilson, MD travels around the world talking about the WMA's work representing the millions of physicians worldwide. Acting on behalf of patients and physicians, the WMA endeavors to achieve the highest possible standards of medical care, ethics, education and health related human rights for all people. This blog will chronicle these travels and important issues.