Prescription for a Fevered Planet: Linda Marsa makes vivid both threat and hope for climate change and health

By Jennifer Miller, PhD

Science journalist Linda Marsa’s recent book, Fevered: Why a hotter planet will hurt our health – and how we can save ourselves, paints a vivid picture of the mounting impact of climate change on health in the U.S. With a sharp focus on the sorts of major changes needed in our systems, infrastructure and ways of life, and a deep appreciation for the essential role that public health must play, Marsa makes the case that we can tackle climate change, that we must  do so to protect our health, and that we have no time to waste.

She has done her homework. Combining extensive research with with a keen eye for the details that bring a story to life, Marsa describes some of the major ways that climate change threatens our health. The stories she tells at the outset of the book are sobering.

Marsa provides a benchmark for the warming we’ll see by introducing us to an Oklahoma farming family on Black Sunday, the day of the worst dust storm in U.S. history. The Dust Bowl, she tells us, which drove hundreds of thousands of desperate Americans off of their dessicated Great Plains farms in the 1930s, was triggered by a mere 1°F change in ocean surface tempertures.

Marsa’s tour of the U.S. health impacts of current day climate change takes us inside Charity Hospital during Katrina, shows us a hanta virus outbreak in the Four Corners region of the Southwest, describes the effects of worsening air quality in California’s Central Valley, and more, carefully drawing links in each case to climate change.

She also takes us to Australia, a developed Western nation much like the U.S., but one that has been hit early and hard by climate change. Australia, Marsa suggests, foreshadows what the U.S. may expect to see in just a few years. After a decade long drought, rural communities are in shambles and suicide rates among despairing Australian farmers have become a significant public health concern – and that’s just one small part of the Australia story. The picture Marsa paints at the outset is grim.

But ultimately, Marsa’s is a message of hope. She wants us to get it – to understand how significantly climate change threatens our health and that of generations to come – so that we’ll do something about. And, she suggests, there is so much that can be done, not only to reduce and address climate change, but to make our lives better in the process.

Marsa shows us vibrantly walkable and increasingly green cities such as New York and Vancouver, that produce a fraction of the per capita carbon emissions of the U.S. average (and have lower obesity rates to boot). She shares with us forward thinking water management plans that have slashed water usage in Las Vegas, Nevada. She descirbes ecosystem rebuilding along the Gulf Coast that should eventually help buffer Lousiana from incoming storms. And Marsa calls for a “medical Marshall Plan” to build up a robust public health system capable of promoting and informing climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience.

They don’t know it yet, but several people on my gift list will be receiving this book for Christmas. Like Marsa, I want the people around me to get a very clear picture both of just how serious a threat to our health climate change is; and that we can tackle this problem if we jump in, full tilt, now. As Marsa puts it in her closing, “we can’t waste another minute.”

Join us in 2014 for a Google Hangout with Linda Marsa

At PHI’s Center for Climate Change and Health, we want to learn more about Fevered and Marsa’s perspective on climate and health. She’s agreed to join us for a Google Hangout On Air in early 2014. Stayed tuned, to learn when and how to join us for a conversation with Linda Marsa.

Blog posts