Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mosquitoes and dragging our feet on Climate Change


Here in New York State, where Climate Change is not expected to affect the net amount of rainfall we get in the next half-century. Mosquitoes that drive vector-borne diseases like Lyme disease, malaria, and West Nile Virus will probably increase.

Vulnerabilities related to climate change also include illness and death associated with ozone and fine-particle air pollution, asthma and other respiratory diseases including allergies associated with altered pollen and mold seasons, cardiovascular disease, and infectious diseases. Climate plays a strong role in the emergence and/or changing distributions of vector-borne diseases, such as those spread by mosquitoes and ticks. (Page 11, ClimateAID: ntegrated Assessment for Effective Climate Change Adaptation Strategies in New York State)

We will have more rainfall in the early spring and late fall according to many Climate Studies that address our region, but even in our drier summers and early fall; man-made pooling of waters will allow the mosquito populations grow.

Mosquito Population will Increase with Climate Change say University of Arizona Researchers “In general, higher temperatures will facilitate an increase in mosquito population during the spring and fall seasons, while higher temperatures in the summer will decrease breeding habitats due to a drier environment.” (June 13, 2011) National Science Foundation

So it makes sense for communities and governments to design programs to anticipate this increased threat and protect the public from one of these environmental health consequences of Climate Change in our region. But not much is happening on that front.

What worries me is that there will be a knee-jerk reaction to this real concern by increasing the use of pesticides to solve this problem as our region warms up. There are many other ways to curb mosquitos’ proliferation than mass pesticide spraying, like monitoring places where water pools up in old tires and this advice from the NYS Department of Health:

The NYS Health Department recommends New Yorkers take the following precautions to eliminate mosquito breeding areas around the home: (from State Health Department Urges New Yorkers to Take Precautions to Protect Themselves from Potential Exposure to West Nile Virus (2005)

· Dispose of tin cans, plastic containers, ceramic pots and similar water-holding containers.

· Remove all discarded tires on your property. Used tires have become one the most common mosquito breeding grounds.

· Drill holes in the bottom of recycling containers that are kept outdoors.

· Make sure gutters drain properly, and clean clogged gutters in the spring and fall.

· Turn over plastic wading pools and wheelbarrows when not in use.

· Change the water in bird baths.

· Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs.

· Drain water from pool covers.

· Use landscaping to eliminate stagnant water that collects on your property; clean up leaf litter and similar organic debris.

· Make sure that all doors and windows have screens and that the screens are in good repair.

This issue highlights why it is important to address Climate Change issues earlier rather than later. Ignoring immediate mass efforts, like reducing misquote populations as our regions warms with non-poisonous methods, will insure that we will have to resort to mass pesticide spraying later on. Then, we’ll have two major problems instead of one: more vector-borne disease and more contamination due to the use and potential over-use of pesticide toxins in our air, water, and ground.

This is the way it’s going to be in our warmer future: Not just one of the consequences due to Climate Change are likely to hit our children at any one time, many things will more likely happen at once. Like Hurricane Katrina, where the levees, the communication systems, transportation systems, fresh waster infrastructure, and disaster aid all failed at once. Those thinking that when the misquotes increase because they can survive longer in the wet hotter weather in early spring we’ll just spray chemicals on them haven’t a clue as to what Climate Change means.

BTW: As long as we are talking about the New York State Health department and Climate Change—what’s going on? It seems the health department stopped talking about Climate Change back in 2008: State Health Commissioner Addresses Public Health Effects of Climate Change with County Environmental Health Directors Statewide as the above noteis the latest to come up when you search their site for ‘climate change.’ That’s not all. The department of health for our state is taking the same tack about informing the public on the heatwave and Climate Change as local media: They are talking about how bad it is and what you should do to protect yourself in a major heatwave, but they aren’t connecting the dots with Climate Change: State Health Department, Office of Emergency Management Advise New Yorkers to Protect Themselves Against Excessive Heat. Nary a word about what is to come.

That’s startling because it is the NYS Dept. of Health that should be help preparing us for public health issues as they relate to Climate Change. But they’ve gone dark on the issue. Not only are more folks going to need more information on how to prepare for heatwaves and vector-borne diseases as our region’s climate changes, but the state and municipalities like Rochester, NY are going to have to long-term plan for these health issues. It gets very complicated and we’re going to need the power and authority of the NYS Health Department to get with it. Warmer weather creates warmer water, which creates more blue algae blooms, and more bacteria in the water, and the last thing we should be doing is waiting until the last minute to address these things because if we do that we’re going to have to rely on doing crazy things—like massive pesticide spraying and geoengineering the planet.

Few things humans have conceived of are more absurd than thinking we’ll just wait until Climate Change gets really bad then super-tech our way out it.

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