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Climate Change: from War to Brain Damage

Mass fumigation in Brazil in an attempt to slow the spread of the Zika virus.

As climate change accelerates, our warming planet is driving crises that range from war on one side of the globe to brain-damaged babies on the other. A few reports from recent days:

In the central Arctic, a chunk of ice four times the size of Arizona melted away in February as temperatures rose 11–14 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Ice cover was 448,000 square miles below average.

Around the world, January was the warmest January on record; December was the warmest December.

A 17-year-old drought continues to grip Syria and its surrounding countries as an escalating war that’s basically over food and water drives refugees to flee to Europe. Evidence from tree rings indicates that the region is suffering the driest period in 900 years.

Warming in the U.S. is being felt at different times of the year in different parts of this country: Winters are warming fastest from Montana to Florida, springs in the Southwest, falls in the Northwest and summers in Texas and its surrounding areas.

The warmer and wetter winter in western states is related to the extra-strong El Niño that’s caused by an upwelling of warm water in the Pacific Ocean. A giant Category 5 hurricane hit Fiji at the end of February, with winds topping 200 mph, the most powerful such storm in the country’s recorded history.

El Niño has an equal and opposite effect on the other side of the world, worsening the drought in Syria, East Africa and India.

The mosquito that can spread Zika ranges as far north as Washington DC in hot weatherAnd there’s growing evidence that El Niño is helping epidemics to hitch a ride on warmer ocean currents. Two recent examples in South America in recent years are a devastating cholera outbreak and a bacterial disease that’s transmitted by shellfish. As these bacteria piggyback thousands of miles across the oceans, one researcher calls the warmer currents “an efficient long-distance ‘biological corridor’ allowing the displacement of marine organisms from distant areas.”

The super-dangerous Zika virus that’s spreading in Brazil has emerged at the same time that the country has just had its hottest year on record. With more and more babies being born with deformed brains, Zika is now considered a worldwide health emergency. Outbreaks of dengue fever are also on the rise, and global warming is increasing the range of the mosquitoes that carry these viruses. As one scientist tells the New York Times, “The warmer it is, the faster they can develop from egg to adult, and the faster they can incubate viruses.”

The mosquito – Aedes aegypti – that’s capable of spreading Zika is already common in Florida, the Gulf Coast and Hawaii, and has ranged as far north as Washington DC in hot weather. First found in Uganda, Aedes aegypti crossed the Atlantic to Brazil during the last 50 years, and mosquitoes carrying Zika have now reached Mexico City.

Imagine more and more babies in more and more countries being born with seriously deformed brains caused by a disease for which there is, as of now, no cure and no vaccine.

Just another side-effect of the accelerating scourge that is climate change.