The Diseases of Climate Change

Mosquitos are annoying. But some of them can be deadly--and they are moving north. It’s yet another byproduct of climate change and thus one more reason to act quickly to reduce our use of carbon.

A story in the Science section of The New York Times said that some mosquitoes carry a virus called Zika, which may be causing thousands of Brazilian babies to be born with tiny heads and brains, a defect called microcephaly. Until May, Zika had never touched this hemisphere except on Easter Island, 2,200 miles off the Chilean coast. Now it circulates in 14 Latin American or Caribbean countries and Puerto Rico.

In December, a CDC official predicted that in the United States Zika would follow the pattern that dengue has: many cases in Puerto Rico, followed by outbreaks in Gulf Coast states and maybe Hawaii.

Climate change is also bringing us more ticks, according to The Times’ story. These little arachnids can carry more than 30 diseases, and some can be fatal. For example, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, once banished from northern Mexico, is surging again and moving up into Arizona for the first time, according to an epidemiologist at the University of Sonora. Children, especially those who sleep beside dogs, are the hardest hit.

The Times also reported that the Gulf Coast tick is expanding north, and other species that carry a combined 18 infectious bacteria are being found in new places inside our borders.

Scientists do not believe that warmer temperatures are the only explanation for the spread of these diseases. Increasing travel between the tropics and the United States is another likely factor, for example.

It sounds like we should move quickly. Obviously, efforts to combat climate change take time to bear fruit, but any delay means we’ll have to wait even longer to get results. A carbon fee is widely considered the fastest, most promising means to address climate change, and Congress should adopt such a fee as soon as possible.