Researchers of a new study find that the public health costs of global climate change are likely to be heaviest in poorer countries.
This situation might pose an ethical dilemma for the developed world as the countries affected by the climate change are the ones who have contributed least to the problem.
The authors of the study quantified the ethical dimension of global climate change by measuring per capita carbon emissions and comparing that data with climate-related disease burden for the most affected regions of the world. The results show a stark contrast between those populations causing global warming from those suffering the brunt of the impacts.
"Our high consumption of energy is putting a huge disease burden on places that are quite remote from us." said Patz, a professor in the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. "There are many serious diseases that are sensitive to climate, and as earth's climate changes, so too can the range and transmission of such diseases," he added.
Many of these climate-sensitive diseases, such as malaria, malnutrition, and diarrhea, affect children in particular. "We in the developed world need to recognize how our way of life imposes negative impacts upon poorer nations of the world, especially their children," said Patz.
According to Patz, the scientific debate on global warming is over. "The scientific community must now turn its attention to dissecting the problem and devising rational solutions," he said. Scientists also argue that changes in patterns of diseases and other negative outcomes of a warming world suggests the developed world must now begin to pursue equitable solutions that first protect the most vulnerable population groups.
But the new study cautions that potential solutions to the world's energy problems may aggravate the negative health impacts of global warming. The report laid emphasis on the rush to biofuels as a phenomenon that could trigger other problems by accelerating deforestation and affecting world food supplies and prices.
"If energy demand drives up the price of corn, for example, this can inflict undue burden on poor or malnourished populations or shift agricultural areas away from other traditional food crops," said Patz.
"Rapid expansion of biofuel crops in the tropics further threatens much of the world's remaining rainforests," says co-author Holly Gibbs.