That, in a nutshell, was the message delivered to scientists here today (Feb. 20) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) by Jonathan A. Patz, an authority on the human health effects of global environmental change.
As the world's climate warms, and as people make widespread alterations to the global landscape, human populations will become far more vulnerable to heat-related mortality, air pollution-related illnesses, infectious diseases and malnutrition, Patz says.
"We are destined to have some warming," says Patz, a professor of environmental studies and population health studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
But it won't be a gradually warming world that triggers future health crises, says Patz, a scientist based at the UW-Madison Center for Sustainability and the Global
Environment. It will be a dramatic increase in severe weather events - major storms, heat waves, flooding - triggered by a shifting global climate that will wreak most of the human health havoc.
"Averages don't kill people - it is the extremes," Patz explains.
The issue, Patz says, is how are we going to adapt? If we don't do something to mitigate the potential human health effects of climate change, the world, beginning at the local and regional level, will begin to experience climate-related catastrophe.
"In the face of climate change, what are the adaptive measures at many and variable scales that we can take to reduce the health impact of climate change? That's what we need to be thinking about," he says.