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The climate can change, can we?

The climate can change, can we?

Globally, the number of report­ed weather-related natural disasters has more than tri­pled since the 1960s. The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) reported that almost 90 percent of deaths in 2017 were due to climatological, hydro­logical or meteorological disasters. We think of unpredictable weath­ers and disasters as an external source of destruction or in a more relevant context, a curse or a result of our bad karma. We do not think of the role we have in intensify­ing these catastrophic outcomes. Issues of clean and affordable food, potable water, roads without potholes or even a clean air to breathe linger over us daily. Besides the frequent political drama, an attributable source of the problem is climate change.

The temperature of the Earth is rising. The current temperatures are 0.85 degree Celsius higher than in the late 19th century, with each of the past three decades being warmer than any preceding decade since records began in 1850. The world’s leading climate scientists think human activities are almost certainly the main cause of the warming observed since the middle of the 20th century. This has been termed as “global warming”. Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melt­ing and precipitation patterns are changing. Extreme weather events are becoming more intense and frequent, with the world witnessing rapid climate changes.

Climate change has affected the social and environmental deter­minants of health—clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter, and devel­oping countries like Nepal are ill equipped to deal with these issues. Residents of small islands and other coastal regions, megacities, and mountainous and polar regions are particularly vulnerable. Nepal’s central location in the Himalayas puts us in a highly threatened zone. The rapidly retreating glaciers (average retreat of more than 30 m/year), rise in temperature, erratic rainfalls and increase in frequency of extreme events such as floods, droughts and earthquakes are some of the effects Nepal has faced in the last few years.

On an individual level, buying those LED bulbs, reusing those shopping bags or refusing those straws will make a difference

Poorer countries lack health infrastructure and emergency pre­paredness to mitigate the growing threats of extreme weather and its consequences. Children are among the most vulnerable to the resulting health risks, and will be exposed longer to the health consequences. The health effects are expected to be more severe for elderly people and people with pre-existing med­ical conditions. Extreme high air temperatures are reported to con­tribute directly to deaths from car­diovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people. Pollen and other aeroallergen levels are also higher in extreme heat, trig­gering asthma, which affects around 300 million people worldwide.

Rising temperatures and other effects of climate change create breeding grounds for disease-car­rying insects. Mosquitoes, which spread malaria, dengue and Zika, are particularly sensitive to changes in temperature and humid­ity. Floods, again the result of cli­mate change, contaminate fresh­water supplies, heighten the risk of water-borne diseases and deplete the quality of drinking water. Recent disasters, ranging from the heat waves in India, wild fires in Califor­nia, floods in South Asia, the East African drought, Hurricane Harvey to the mega earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015, are begging for cli­mate action globally.

Nepal signed the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Conven­tion on Climate Change, and recent­ly, announced the years 2018-2028 as the “Energy Decade”, emphasiz­ing the development and expansion of renewable energy nationwide. As a least developed country highly vulnerable to climate change, Nepal has focused its climate action on adaptation. Nepal’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) includes plans to increase renew­able energy production, moving to a low-carbon development path­way. As of 2010, Nepal’s own emis­sions make up less than 0.1 percent of global emissions, which is well below the targeted cap by 2030. Nevertheless, it is on the rise.

As Al Gore says, “Will our children ask, why didn’t you act? Or will they ask, how did you find the moral courage to rise up and change?” Changes in our everyday life can make an impact. On an individual level, buying those LED bulbs, reus­ing those shopping bags or refusing those straws will make a difference. The individual impact may be small but when we add everyone and zoom out, the picture will definitely start to look very different.

Jemish Acharya is a dentist who is currently pursuing a PhD in Global Health inMahidol University, Bangkok