Yellow Fever, Politics, and Climate Change

Yellow Fever, Politics, and Climate Change

The history of yellow fever in Cuba and Panama is remarkably parallel to the climate change debate of today, the major differences being that the solution to yellow fever was less complicated and thus, even without modern communication systems, issues resolved in years instead of decades.

Understanding of both fevers and climates begins with basic scientific study.  Until we knew that diseases have organic causes such as bacteria, viruses, or deficiency of a specific nutrient, it was impossible to determine the cause.  Climate science, as I was growing up, was perhaps at a stage like that of disease when only a few causes were known.  Not only since I finished high school, but since I finished college, and even since the start of this century, the science of climate has advanced exponentially.

Unfortunately, common understanding of climate has not.

It doesn’t help that those who believe climate change either isn’t happening or is a divinely directed and unalterable process are in the same position as those Panama Canal commissioners who told  Dr. Gorgas to forget his crazy idea that mosquitoes transmitted yellow fever and malaria.

Whether we can, at this stage, at least slow down the rate of global warming, we must at least attempt to do so.

Dr. Reed, who at that time understood more about mosquitos than Dr. Gorgas, didn’t think mosquito control in Havana was possible.

Dr. Gorgas insisted it was necessary to try, and if mosquito control eliminated yellow fever, Dr. Reed’s hypothesis would be proven.

We must do all we can to stop overburdening our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and if we can slow climate change/global warming be any measurable amount, the best available science hypotheses will be proven correct.

If Dr. Gorgas had not essentially eliminated the carrier mosquitos, thousands more would have died of yellow fever in Panama and the canal might not have been completed.

If we don’t do what we can, rising oceans and changing climate patterns will cause global disruption of populations and millions of deaths from both disease and armed conflict.

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