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2/27/2008

It's time for a body count

Climate change is killing us. So why are we still so reluctant to quantify the deaths it has caused? It's time for a body count. Scientists are involved in programmes to measure CO2 emissions, air temperatures, sea-ice loss and the impacts on birds, rainforest trees and coral reefs. While we know that climate change-related events are killing people, yet there is no comprehensive global monitoring program to document the human lives lost due to climate change. The biggest obstacle is the sheer variety of effects it has on health. These include direct effects such as drowning in floods and complex indirect effects, such as falling crop yields which increases malnutrition and changes in the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria. The World Heath Organisation publishes the only global estimate of the number killed by climate change - about 150,000 annually. Worryingly, this estimate comes from a single modelling study in 2002, and includes only four impacts of climate change (deaths from one strain of malaria, malnutrition, diarrhoea-type diseases and flooding). It is a highly conservative first estimate and, by now, considerably out of date.
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