September 25, 2008

An Interview with Dr. Kirk Smith, Professor of Global Environmental Health at UC Berkeley

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The effects of climate change is being felt all over the world - from increased severity and frequency of storms, rapid melting of glaciers, crop losses, and rising sea water levels, to name just a few. The golden state of California in the United States has experienced its own share of hardship from global warming such as droughts, heat waves, reduction of the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Ranked as one of the top institutions of higher learning in the nation with 61 Nobel Laureates associated with the university, the University of California, Berkeley is pooling its vast resources of top scientists, researchers and professors to research and address the effects of global climate change.

Today, Supreme Master Television presents an interview with Dr. Kirk Smith, a professor of Global Environmental Health at UC Berkeley.

The university is also his alma mater where he received his bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees.
Dr. Smith holds the Maxwell Endowed Chair in Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.
He is also founder and coordinator of the campus-wide Masters Program in Health, Environment, and Development.
His research work focuses on environmental and health issues in developing countries, particularly those related to health-damaging and climate-changing air pollution, and includes ongoing field projects in India, China, Nepal, and Guatemala.

He serves on a number of national and international scientific advisory boards including those for the Global Action Plan for Pneumonia, the Global Energy Assessment, and the WHO Air Quality Guidelines. He is on the editorial boards of a range of international journals and has published over 250 scientific articles and 7 books.

In 1997, Dr. Smith was elected as a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors awarded to US scientists by their peers.
Supreme Master TV: Hallo and thank you for joining us today on Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. Today we have the good fortune of speaking with Dr. Kirk Smith.

He's a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and his main focus is Global Environmental Health.
So welcome, Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith: Thank you. It's very nice to be here.

Supreme Master TV: Can you explain a little bit about your background, how you got into this field, how many years you've been working in the field of climate change and how it impacts public health?

Dr. Smith: Well, actually I was trained initially as an astrophysicist and expected a career in that, but back in the 70's, I thought well, perhaps I should do something that was a bit more relevant to world issues. So I took a long trip out through Asia and the Pacific, saw the conditions in the third world of people living in poverty and terrible environmental conditions, and came back and decided to change my career, to use my scientific background,but in environmental health issues.

So I've been working on these issues now more than 30 years. In the case of climate change, of course we were aware of that during the 70's and 80's,

but I became convinced around 1990 that this was a serious problem and so devoted a portion of my research to climate change issues in the third world.

The effects of climate change are not only see in severity of weather but with continued research such as that of Dr. Smith's, it is becoming more evident the impacts global warming has on human health.

Dr. Smith: People hear about heat stress in cities, you know. Are there going to be more episodes like in Paris a few years ago, or in Chicago a couple of years ago and this kind of thing? That's one category of impact. Another is the shift in disease vectors now, not mainly mosquitoes,

but others as well. So if malaria exists because of mosquito population in a certain area of Africa, and doesn't go up the mountains of Africa because it's too cold, but if you change the temperature, the osquitoes will go further up to the mountains.And for example, some of the major cities in Africa were purposely set at places in the mountains to avoid malaria. Nairobi and Harar are a few good examples, big cities now. Well, they're starting to get malaria in Nairobi now.

And you're going to see more of that, the extension of the disease vectors. Another is increase in diarrhea because of warming of sewage [which] gets into the environment and the bugs can grow better and that's considered to be one of the impacts. Another is sea level rise, causing displacement of coastal populations with health impacts associated with that.

Another is that climate change will increase outdoor air pollution, particularly ozone, because it's currently a function of temperature and sunlight.

So even in California, it's expected that we'll have more outdoor air pollution because of climate change.

Supreme Master TV: And then what about lung-related illnesses, such as pneumonia? Number one, I'd like to ask, if there would be an increase such as this.

And also what about psychological stress? Is there an increase in psychological disorders due to the changes in the atmosphere? And do you see those increasing?

Dr. Smith: Well, of course, I was just seeing something the other day that somebody was looking at the very reporting about climate change is causing stress. Yes, you and I at this moment are causing stress for somebody. So, stress is not all negative. It can get people to act,

so maybe that's good. But obviously, there can be a negative side to it. I think the big stress is going to be in these refugee populations.

If you get displaced because there are droughts, displaced because there are floods, displaced because of sea level rise, that's a very stressful situation.

And even, if there are no dseases, there usually are with the refugee populations, there will be lots of psychological stress. And so I think that is an impact.

Through his research, Dr.Smith and other scientists have already seen the major impacts of climate change on the health of society's most vulnerable citizens - children in developing nations.
There have now been systematic studies on the health effects of climate change. They found that as of the year 2000, which is, you know,now sometime passed, there were about 150,000 premature deaths around the world from climate change already. Now that assessment is being redone as we speak. I'm on the committee;

we're sure it's going to be much larger now; but the problem is not the 150,000. It's the fact that it's growing, and we expect a lot more. It gives you an idea of the distribution around the world of this impact. And 88% of that impact is in Third World children, because they're the ones that are already vulnerable, they're the ones that are malnourished, they're the ones that don't have access to medical care, they're the ones that live in bad environments already. And so they are the ones that are going to be suffering from climate change health effects. Continue The world will be more colorless for us.

It's going to cost more because, you know, we have to protect ourselves, air conditioning and so on, sea level rise, and all of this, but we're not dying from it. But there are people who die in the world because of it. And the biggest group is Third World children. It's one of the things I haven't heard many people talk about. The fact is that the impact, in terms of health of climate change, is actually children, in particular children in Africa, India, the poor places in Latin America.

And it's because of malaria, it's because of diarrhea, it's because of malnutrition, or another effect of climate change on health is changes in the crop productivity in areas where they're already right at the level, right at the edge of malnutrition.

And that's a big impact as well. Continue Malaria, malnutrition, diarrhea and the increase in sea level rise,and the increase in hurricanes, you know, severe weather events, which have severe health effects, those things are considered real.

On the other hand, there are more subtle things. For example, if you change the precipitation, the rainfall and the temperature, you are going to change the pattern of pollens.

Supreme Master TV: So then this would lead to longer allergy seasons or…?

Dr. Smith: Yeah, longer allergy seasons, new forms of pollen coming in that people might be more allergic to [leading to] exacerbation of asthma. We already have a very high rate of asthma in this country and many countries. So those kinds of impacts, you know, are being looked at as well. Supreme Master TV: And we're already seeing evidence of this is what you're saying.

Dr. Smith: Yeah, there's some evidence of this.

Supreme Master TV: It's not out in the future. It's here now.

Dr. Smith: Yeah. It's starting now, right. And it'll just get more and more obvious.

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