The Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon was the host today of the International Conference on Climate Change and the message was absolutely clear: if the temperature of the world continues to rise, there could be a serious health risk for southern Europe in the short term, and central and northern Europe shortly after. Anthony McMichael, epidemiologist expert from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “We know that, according to the World Health Organization, the distribution of diseases such as malaria, which are basically concentrated in the southern hemisphere, could invade the countries to the north, if the vectors of the diseases find the means to migrate”. This conference is held in the same year that the West Nile Virus invaded New York, provoking measures to contain the virus which cost tens of millions of dollars to New York’s City Council. Paul Epstein, of Harvard Medicine Faculty, said: “ We are more and more certain of an uncertain future.” He stated that in ideal circumstances, the world’s climate provides a natural barrier against the propagation of viruses and epidemics. However, with the hand of Mankind, increasing industrial pollution, contributing towards the depletion of the ozone layer, the world’s temperature seems to be rising year after year. If this is the case, the world’s natural barriers will be rendered useless and dengue fever, malaria and who knows, Ebola, may well run alongside the common cold and flu in our cities in the years to come. Whether or not our climate is warming is a matter of speculation. Some state that the winters nowadays are colder than those of 300 years ago and therefore, the world’s climate is getting colder. Others point to rising temperatures throughout the year in the last decades. Obviously, temperature changes and climate variations are cyclical but it does seem that there is evidence which points towards a global warming trend. Alpine peaks are showing unprecedented melt-downs, the polar ice-caps are melting at rates which have never before been recorded, rivers in Britain are flooding at record high levels. All of these are tell-tale signs that something is wrong. The UNO systematically promotes conferences at which the world’s powers are supposed to pledge to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions (believed to contribute towards the depletion of the ozone layer) but the result is always the same: if all countries are equally responsible, some countries consider themselves more equal than others, and refuse to respect the stipulated levels of emissions. Yet again, the bottom line is the dollar. Yet again, the dollar is the bottom line.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey Lisbon