It is generally accepted in the health community that increases in worldwide temperature will raise the global burden of disease. However, one paper by Kevin Lafferty in this month’s issue of the journal Ecology counters this consensus. According to Lafferty, climate change might make the present territory of some diseases too hot. Thus, climate change might both open and close territory to diseases.
Critics of Lafferty’s research argue, amongst other things, that climate models predict a rise in minimum temperatures rather than maximum temperatures. If this it he case, then diseases might maintain a hold in their current territory while expanding to newly warmer areas. Furthermore, many high-altitude regions have greater population density than warmer regions and thus temperature increases will likely increase human exposure to disease.
This dialog has important security implications. If climate change increases the global burden of disease, health will be a more pressing threat to human security and the political stability of states. States in cooler climates, which have been largely immune to tropical diseases could face new challenges as health services are overwhelmed and eventually lose political legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens.
If Lafferty is wrong, building health capacity will become an increasingly important tool in US foreign policy. That is, by making states and their militaries more resilient to new health threats, the United States can promote the stability of her allies and regions of interest.
Christopher R. Albon is a political science Ph.D. specializing in armed conflict, public health, human security, and health diplomacy.