Almost a third of those who responded to a recent BMJ poll thought that climate change is not a matter for doctors. Had the doubters been at the Royal College of Physicians’ conference on climate change in January, they could not have escaped the impact it will have on health.
Global warming is creating an unstable, chaotic, climate, so its effects are hard to predict. How much human conflict will it generate as the world’s billions fight for food and water and flee uninhabitable lands? How will nations respond to the threats to their security? Can the peoples of the world work together using existing knowledge and technology to avoid the destruction of our civilisation?
In the short term, we in the West can buy our way out of trouble. But others can’t. Few Africans have a skiing holiday to forego. They are already on the margin, and they know it. Even in the poorest countries, people turn on the television and compare their lifestyle with ours. Wealthier nations are already feeling the pressure of their discontent. In the USA vigilante groups supplement the border patrols along the Rio Grande. Australia is strengthening its marine defence against southeast Asian immigration. Spain, too, is investing in more powerful maritime patrol vessels, the better to pick up rafts overloaded with west Africans hoping to make it to the Canaries and a better life. India is building a 4500km wall (two-thirds of the length of the Great Wall of China) to keep out the Bangladeshis fleeing their submerging country. Access to resources already contributes to the drift to cities and to armed conflicts like Dafur and the Middle East, and it will get much, much worse as billions of people try to crowd into the diminishing habitable areas of the globe.