If you think you are too small to make a difference, go to bed with a malaria mosquito.
This old saying is more true than ever. The mosquitoes are carrying not only malaria, but also dengue, zika, chikungunya and other infectuous diseases, causing millions of premature deaths, billions of dollars in health related costs, and unmeasurable suffering.
In the indirect sense, the mosquito saying is just as true, and inspiring. An average mosquito only weighs around four milligrams, yet in a few seconds it can cause such a change to our lives. We all know how one person can make this huge impact in the lives of many, for good and for bad, in much the same way. The change to a more sustainable, low-carbon lifestyle is lead by these individuals who manage to influence others, sometimes in mere seconds.
These change-provoking individuals are now much needed, as we see the urgent need to fight climate change more efficiently than we have been doing until now. But we also need to realize that we are well beyond the point where we can focus only on reducing emissions; we need to adapt to a changing climate. Enter the mosquito.
Incidence of mosquito-carried Zika and dengue are currently increasing at alarming rates in many parts of the world; these are called a Public Health Emerging of International Concern and the globe’s most important viral disease carried by mosquito, respectively, by the WHO.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the main vector for dengue and Zika. Until now, it has been generally limited to areas of the tropics, where climatic conditions are most conducive for the insects to thrive and reproduce. With climate change, this is now likely to change. The diseases’ area of transmission is likely to expand, the season of transmission to be longer and the intensity of transmission to increase.
Subtropical and temperate areas, including Southern Europe, that do not have much experience with these diseases should prepare for this rapidly changing reality. They may experience individual infections as well as, in some areas, wide spread epidemics. Even areas that will not directly be affected even with a changing climate, will more often have to deal with citizens returning from infected areas carrying the disease – both because the area is getting bigger and because we travel more.
While it is important to prepare for potential outbreaks of the disease, the spreading of Zika and dengue is also an urgent call for climate action. Previously, the discussion on victims of climate change centered around polar bears, future generations, and, perhaps, people living on small islands soon to be under water. We now realize that climate vulnerability is right here, right now, which will help us to act faster and more decisively. It is cynical and tragic, but perhaps paradoxically the spreading of Zika and dengue may be a decisive factor in making us give the fight against climate change top priority. That is how powerful that little mosquito is.
CEO, Swedish Green and liberal think tank Fores
This is the preliminary foreword for a zika study to be presented by Fores in December 2016. See www.fores.se