EXETER, England – Millions of people across the globe are set to die early due to extreme weather events such as floods and heat waves caused by climate change, a British scientist said.
Professor Mike Pilling cited the heatwave in Europe last year that killed thousands of people from a combination of heat exhaustion and an increase in atmospheric pollution. “We will experience an increase in extreme weather events,” he told reporters at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. “There are predictions of a 10-fold increase in heat waves. “The increasing frequency of these will inevitably result in a sharp increase in the premature deaths of people,” he added. Pilling, professor of Physical Chemistry at Leeds University in northern England, said atmospheric pollution was like a plague stretching across the planet – although far worse in the industrialized northern hemisphere than the southern – as pollutants drifted from Asia to the United States to Europe and back to Asia. But the sources of pollution were not just static. The boom in air travel for example was contributing. “The biggest issue is climate change. We have got to control it,” he said.
The problem was not just factories, planes, power stations and cars pumping out dirt and noxious chemicals, but also the burning of wood and fossil fuels – whether for heat and light or in forest and subterranean fires.
Many industrialized nations have signed up to targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions sharply by 2010. But Pilling said that Britain – and London in particular with its high concentrations of people and traffic – for one was going to miss two key targets covering emissions of nitrogen dioxide and soot particles. “People will continue to be exposed to levels of pollution that can cause ill health,” he said. Ozone – a shield from harmful space radiation in the stratosphere but a poison to people in the lower troposphere – was also on the increase partly due to global pollution but also to local output. He said governments needed to tackle all causes of pollution together, not one at a time. “We must continue to look to improvements in technology to cut these harmful emissions,” Pilling said. “But we also have to change the way we live.”