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Contempo Updates | Clinician's Corner

Health Effects of Climate Change

Andy Haines, MD, MBBS; Jonathan A. Patz, MD, MPH
JAMA. 2004;291(1):99-103. doi:10.1001/jama.291.1.99.
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Humans are now making unprecedented changes to the global environment. Economic development has been fostered by the use of fossil fuels but the accompanying accumulation of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide and methane, has implications for the world's climate (Box).1 Since the 1850s when temperature records began, the world has warmed by approximately 0.6°C, largely in the last 3 decades. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects an increase of between 1.8°C and 5.8°C and an increase in sea levels between 9 and 88 cm during the next century.1 Warming is likely to be greater at the poles than at the equator. The residence time in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide exceeds 100 years; therefore, our actions affect the prospects of future generations.

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Figure. Potential Health Effects of Climate Variability and Change
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Adapted from Patz et al.2 Schematic of pathways through which climate change can affect multiple health outcomes. Examples are also given of moderating factors and adaptive measures determining extent of adverse outcomes, as well as mitigating measures to prevent global warming.

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