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Doctors detail medical effects of global warming



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A high-powered group of Utah doctors and scientists warned Thursday that we face the greatest health threat of the 21st Century: The threat is from global warming. In spite of skepticism from Utah politicians, the experts say the deadly consequences have already begun to unfold.

It's a nightmare scenario for our planet--and for its people, scary enough for a disaster movie. But this one's for real, according to a doctors and scientists who summed up the worries about global warming.

"There is simply no greater consensus on any scientific topic that I'm aware of," said Dr. Robert Davis, physicist at Utah State University.

The list of catastrophes seems endless: increased droughts, floods, forest fires; vast multitudes becoming refugees and heat waves killing by the tens of thousands.

"Expecially older people, who cannot regulate their body temperature as well as younger people, they're high risk," said Dr. Richard Kanner, professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah.

Air pollution will get worse, along with unhealthy dust storms. Mosquitoes and other pests are already moving to new territory with dread diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

"I've seen these diseases," Kanner said. "Let me tell you, you've never seen anybody so miserable as somebody with dengue. Boy are they sick."

The scientists expressed frustration that people are doing so little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"I think it's a lack of knowledge. I think if people understood the long-term effects and the larger picture of what's going on, I think they would absolutely respond appropriately and try and make changes that are easy to make, and that are absolutely vital in the long term," said Dr. Rebecca Ponder, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

In spite of what these doctors call "an overwhelming scientific consensus," it's still being met with skepticism by Utah leaders.

"The fact that our last 11 years has been cooler than it's been warmer," Gov. Gary Herbert said. "Again, I'm not taking a position on man-caused cataclysmic warming; I'm just saying the debate is raging."

The claim that the last decade is cooler is widely circulating on talk radio. Davies says scientific data shows it's false.

"If 2,000 cardiologists told you you had a heart problem, you wouldn't discount it if a single cardiologist told you you didn't. You wouldn't discount it if a dermatologist told you you didn't or a talk-radio entertainer told you you didn't. And you certainly wouldn't discount the odd politician or two who told you you didn't have it," Davies said.

The doctors recommended action by government and lifestyle changes by all of us. They said the data indicates Utah's average temperature will warm up by around 10 degrees by the end of this century.

E-mail: jhollenhorst@ksl.com

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John Hollenhorst

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