It’s summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, and that means outdoor barbeques, playtime at the beach and swimming pools and more. It also means mosquitoes are back and often making a beeline to feast on humans and animals.
Mosquitoes are definitely a nuisance in this part of the world—I have a bite on my ankle to prove it—but without a doubt they are a much bigger menace in Africa where malaria in particular causes hundreds of thousands of deaths per year.
Ghanna and Sudan, for instance, which are two of the largest gold mining countries in Africa, saw 18,757 and 2,552 malaria deaths, respectively, in 2017. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is known for cobalt mining—needed for lithium ion batteries—saw a staggering 81,226 deaths in 2017.
While mosquitoes might not be the first creature you think of when you think of dangerous animals, they are actually the world’s deadliest animal! To be precise, it’s the female mosquitoes that thrive on human blood; males seem to be content eating nectar.
Some 700 million people get sick each year from common mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue, West Nile virus, yellow fever and malaria, which leads to more than 1 million deaths annually. For comparison, there were 13 shark-related fatalities worldwide in 2020 (10 of which were deemed unprovoked), which was well-above the global average of four unprovoked deadly attacks per year.
The guess here is that 99% of mosquito-related attacks are unprovoked except for the researchers who stick their arms in the mosquito tank to test repellants and such in the name of science. We offer a heartfelt thank you to those brave volunteers for doing such a swell job.
A ‘New Relationship’ With Nature
I recently read a quote from famed-conservationist and gorilla researcher Jane Goodall saying, “Hopefully this pandemic has taught us we cannot go on the way we are. [We need] a new relationship with the natural world. We’re creating more and more situations that will encourage these so-called zoonotic diseases, when a pathogen jumps from an animal to a person.”
Besides addressing the root causes of COVID-19 or any potential future pandemics for that matter, that “relationship” with nature must address climate change. Beyond the typical ramifications we often mention such as rising oceans, hotter temperatures, etc., we also will likely have to deal with more mosquitoes from the “intensity and frequency of precipitation,” which allows those winged creatures to breed and thrive.
A study that appeared in the journal Nature Microbiology in 2019 found that climate change could expose half the world’s population to mosquito-borne diseases by 2050. One of the researchers, Moritz Kraemer, an infectious disease scientist at Boston Children’s Hospital and the University of Oxford, told YaleEnvironment360: “If no action is taken to reduce the current rate at which the climate is warming, pockets of habitat will open up across many urban areas with vast amounts of individuals susceptible to infection.”
Additionally, a study in Communications Biology from 2018 that looked back over the past few years—195 million to be precise—found that there is a strong correlation between elevated atmospheric CO2 levels and temperatures and faster mosquito evolution, which could mean even more disease possibilities as temperatures and CO2 levels continue to rise.
Climate Change and Risk
As we reported in our recent list of the “Top 10 Operational Risks for 2021,” climate change is not only a risk to sustainability but an operational risk as well. We saw that play out earlier this year when a glacier incident turned deadly in India and, just last week, when Portland, Oregon, suffered an unprecedented and deadly heatwave with temperatures reaching 116˚F (almost 47˚C).
Less dangerous but no less of an operational risk: Portland Streetcar had to cancel service when the extreme heat melted power cables. After all, hotter temperatures have consequences on technology, too.
Climate change is clearly not something we can just swat away; it will take a lot of hard work and effort. Companies, for instance, will have to play a crucial role in limiting their greenhouse gas emissions on the road to net zero and the circular economy.
As a bonus, tackling climate change will also help prevent the preying proboscises of mosquitoes from getting under even more people’s skin.