It’s brought down countless empires, as Anthony McMichael’s brilliant history recounts.

ccClimate Change and the Health of Nations: Famines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations

Anthony J. McMichael with Alistair Woodward and Cameron Muir

Oxford University Press (2017)

Global-warming deniers have adopted a new tactic: “Of course the climate is changing,” they sigh, “because it has always changed. So what’s your point?”

Even without our assistance, climate change is actually a force that has shaped us for millions of years and killed millions in the process. It was bad enough until about 1800; climate used to change slowly over centuries, but now thanks to us it is changing in decades.

Anthony McMichael was an Australian epidemiologist who completed a draft of this book before his untimely death in 2014. Two colleagues revised it, and it now stands as an instant classic. We should read it as carefully and attentively as we would listen to our oncologist describe the progress of our cancer and our chances of recovery.

As McMichael shows in his enormously documented book, climate change drove us out of the trees and eventually out of Africa and across the planet. It also drove us out of a congenial and mobile hunter-gatherer ecological niche into the “Faustian bargain” of sedentary agriculture: We could support far more people, but at the cost of malnutrition, hierarchical societies, and recurrent epidemics of diseases acquired from our domestic animals.

We can now see the price of that bargain: early farming societies could support a lot of people as long as they were shorter and sicker than hunter-gatherers. If their land couldn’t support them, early farmers died or moved — or simply overthrew their ruling priests and warriors and bureaucrats.

Read more: How Climate Change Has Plagued the Health of Nations for Centuries


National Geographic Explorer Topher White has created a clever way to listen for sounds of illegal logging.
Topher White set out to preserve Indonesian rainforest like that seen above by monitoring its sounds.  PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL NICHOLS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

Topher White spends a lot of time walking in—and thinking about—the forest, and how quickly we’re losing it. So much so that he’s gotten a black eye from being smacked by flying tree branches.

But that’s just a small example of what the engineer is willing to endure to stop global deforestation. Founder of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Rainforest Connection, White has developed a simple but ingenious strategy: using old cell phones to listen for the sound of destruction.

Forests are disappearing worldwide, and fast: Swaths half the size of England are lost each year. The Amazon has lost close to one-fifth of its rain forest cover in the last four decades.

Forest loss not only harms wildlife, including many species that live nowhere else, it’s a big contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that stoke climate changeaccounting for about 17 percent of the world’s annual total.

“I didn’t know any of this stuff when I started,” says White, who began his journey in 2011, when he traveled to Indonesian Borneo to help dwindling gibbons.

Read more: Your Old Cell Phone Can Help Save the Rain Forest


Even reptiles adapted to hot environments can succumb to heat stress, a concern as the world warms, experts say.

Death by desiccation may be unpleasant, but it makes for a lovely corpse.


Such was the fate of an unlucky Indian chameleon that apparently died while trying to drink from a pipe that had been turned off. Writer and wildlife filmmaker Janaki Lenin witnessed the macabre scene recently in India.

According to Lenin’s posts, it seems the reptile expired while clutching the spigot, and was then quickly mummified by the intense tropical sun. Two tiny holes cut into the dried remains suggest that ants may have helped themselves to the animal's innards, completing the preservation process.

Even animals adapted to live in hot environments, like the chameleon, can succumb to heat stress, says Jeanine Refsnider, a herpetologist at the University of Toledo in Ohio. (Related: "Will Global Warming Heat Us Beyond Our Physical Limits?")

All animals “can handle temperatures up to a certain limit,” says Refsnider, “and if the temperatures get beyond that, your proteins actually start to unfold.”

“At the cellular level, your cells start to fall apart, and once that happens you can’t really reverse it.”

In what could be bad news for animals—and people—in already hot climates, heat waves are on the rise due to climate change. According to a new study, 30 percent of the world’s population is currently exposed to potentially deadly heat for 20 days per year or more. (Read: "Earth Hasn't Heated Up This Fast Since the Dinosaurs' End.")

Read more: Chameleon Mummified Alive by the Tropical Sun


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