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Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health – and How We Can Save Ourselves (Book Review)

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Lazy summer evenings in the backyard require more vigilance against mosquitoes.  A bite threatens to be more than itchy, with previously third-world maladies like West Nile virus and dengue hemorrhagic fever becoming real threats in the United States.

More children carry inhalers as the air becomes polluted with higher levels of irritating natural allergens as well as unnatural particulate matter.

Municipalities must get increasingly creative to provide enough clean drinking water for residents.

I expected to learn from author Linda Marsa “Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health” as described in the subtitle of her new book Fevered.  What I didn’t expect were so many examples of how climate change is already hurting and threatening our health today.

Marsa spent three years interviewing physicians, scientists and public health experts around the globe for her book that humanizes the threat of climate change like never before.  While neither Marsa nor the experts she interviews claim that climate change alone causes all of these health threats, they explain how extreme climate can make them worse.  For instance, warmer weather helps mosquitoes breed more often and spread more disease throughout an expanded area.

Fevered takes readers from the American Southwest where mosquitoes spread potentially deadly diseases to the desert habitat for dust-borne Valley Fever to flood-scarred New Orleans where hurricane Katrina wiped out the most basic medical care.  The grim examples of disease and death are not abstractions, but cases that could just as easily happen to your family or mine — today.  An Australian teen and his mother swept to their deaths by floodwaters illustrate the realities that people already experience on that harsh continent.

While extreme weather events like stronger hurricanes and more dramatic floods are becoming the new normal in our climate changed world, we’re also dealing with droughts and valuing clean drinking water like never before.  Marsa gives several examples of how municipalities are learning to better treat and manage water, noting “water may soon be as precious as gold,” and that water is “poised to become the oil of the 21st century.”  Clean drinking water is no doubt so essential to good health that we’ve long taken it for granted.

The author of Fevered not only paints a grim public health picture, but offers some solutions for coping. She tells of cities learning to recycling water to make it potable again.  Of course there’s the story of New Orleans rebuilding with levees stronger than ever.  Her examples of greener, pedestrian-friendly urban planning in Manhattan and Vancouver are commendable, but a hard sell to country folks like me accustomed to wide open spaces and pickup trucks.

Parking my pickup truck today would be the equivalent of only a tiny drop in Earth’s rapidly acidifying oceans.  But Marsa makes a compelling case that if we want to curb carbon emissions, slow climate change (too late to stop it altogether) and have a chance at survival, we’d all better start somewhere.

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