The Link Between the Zika Virus and Climate Justice
As carbon emissions cause global temperatures to rise, health professionals have noticed a spread in mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile Virus. In northern parts of the United States, cool weather has traditionally caused mosquito activity to stop during the winter months. But as winters grow warmer, these natural barriers are going away.
Now, a new threat is looming in the form of the Zika virus. Though the disease hasn’t yet found a strong toehold in the U.S., the Asian tiger mosquito, which is capable of carrying Zika, is thriving in many areas, especially poorer urban neighborhoods. As this Washington Post article explains, abandoned buildings and vacant lots often become collecting grounds for trash and debris, creating areas of standing water where mosquitos can breed.
This means that, in addition to suffering higher levels of air pollution and water contamination, disadvantaged neighborhoods are in greater danger of contracting mosquito-borne diseases – and as temperatures continue to rise, this risk will grow along with them. It’s one more example of the disproportionate climate impacts felt by communities of color and other vulnerable populations.
Faith leaders such as Pope Francis have been very successful in pointing out our moral obligation to fight climate change in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. We’ve also found that climate concern and acceptance increases when people are able to see how climate change will affect them directly. This new risk may be motivating for both reasons.
By Chris Mooney, reporter for The Washington Post
“PLEASE DON’T PUT GARBAGE HERE,” says a sign in a rundown alley in the Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park neighborhood, where more than a third of the homes stand abandoned.
It doesn’t seem to be working. Nearby, a barking stray dog guards an enormous, sprawling pile of trash, featuring everything from an old mattress and dresser to soda cans and a laundry detergent jug.
As if the decay and crime of West Baltimore aren’t bad enough, this neighborhood faces another menace as the weather begins to warm — mosquitoes, including types that can transmit diseases such as dengue, the chikungunya virus and Zika. The number of mature, biting Asian tiger mosquitoes that can be found in Baltimore’s poorer Harlem Park and Franklin Square neighborhoods in peak mosquito season (late summer) is roughly three times the number in wealthier areas of town, according to scientists who are studying the phenomenon.
And research has found that another mosquito species, Culex pipiens — which can carry West Nile virus — is more common in hard-hit urban areas and particularly has seemed to thrive in discarded-tire “habitats” in Baltimore.
Image credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post