I travel a lot, and I use it as my time to catch up on reading and also to think and reflect. This week as I was purchasing some snacks at the airport, the cover of Discover Magazine caught my eye. Titled “The Coming Plague,” the magazine was detailing the rise of bugs and disease in America. I quickly paid for the magazine, having a sinking feeling that I knew what was going to be in the article.
My sinking feeling came from my summer experience when a friend I was traveling with in the Caribbean contracted Dengue Fever. I became obsessed in my quest to find out more about Dengue. My friend had been out of the United States for less than 60 hours and found herself in the hospital for five days. I had managed to escape her fate, but it is clear that Dengue is on the rise.
Reading Discover Magazine on the airplane, I found out that Dengue is now a big problem in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. Many people have the antibodies to it, which means they have been bitten even if they did not get the full-blown disease. That same night I also learned that the first case of Dengue in Miami, Fla., had been diagnosed. This was not someone who got off a cruise ship with Dengue. This Dengue was home grown, and the patient had contracted the disease in Broward County. Dengue mosquitoes have found their way to Miami and are biting.
While coming home today, I passed an exhibit in the Denver airport on the melting ice in the Arctic, only to pick up the New York Times a few minutes later where the lead article is titled “Reading earth’s future in glacial ice.” I began to read, and suddenly my Dengue research connected with what I am learning about global warming.
Dengue did not just arrive on our shores for no reason. Yes, the lack of DDT has made the disease more difficult to control, but there is one main culprit: climate change. Pools of water where insects breed don’t form from DDT. They form from water. Heating up the southern U.S. by two degrees over the last 50 years means that the life cycle of the mosquitoes has changed. It means that places that were not considered hospitable to the insects are now more welcoming. The hurricanes and super storms in the Caribbean that have occurred due to climate change have increased the Dengue problem.
The New York Times article details what it might mean if the sea level rises two to six feet during the next 90 years. Populations on the coasts all over the world would be threatened, and parts of New York City would not be immune. “Recent research suggests that the volume of the ocean may have been stable for thousands of years as human civilization has developed. But it began to rise in the 19th century, around the same time that advanced countries began to burn large amounts of coal and oil,” the Times reported.
The flat-earth people who do not believe in climate change should do the traveling that I do. People around the world who have not been influenced by cable television or politicians can tell you their observations about how their hometowns/countries have changed in their lifetimes. It is obvious that there is major change in our environment. Some people will admit to climate change but say that human impact has little to do with it and that these changes are the natural cycles of the earth. Those folks need to take basic chemistry again and realize that you cannot keep dumping carbon into the atmosphere and not have the results we have been seeing. It is impossible for this massive carbon dump over the last 200 years not to have an impact on the earth.
The chickens have come home to roost. Climate change and the melting of ice in the polar regions are changing our world. Like the canary in the coal mine, those tiger-striped mosquitoes that carry Dengue and other diseases are the warning that we had better all heed.
My friend with Dengue spent five days in the hospital. She was just one case. Our hospitals are over burdened taking care of patients with cancer, heart disease and other known medical illnesses. With climate change bringing previously rare illnesses to our borders, health care is going to get a lot more expensive, and it won’t be due to “Obamacare.” It will be due to the effects of climate change. It will be due to the lack of stewardship of our home planet and putting our collective heads in the sand and doing nothing to stop this disaster.