Brian Deese, a senior fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard’s Kennedy School, served as a senior adviser to President Barack Obama overseeing climate change and energy policy. Ronald A. Klain, a Post contributing columnist, was White House Ebola response coordinator from 2014 to 2015 and a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
With President Trump’s decision on U.S. participation in the Paris climate accords expected in the next few days, there has been widespread discussion of the many consequences that climate change will have for us and our children, including extreme weather events, displacement of people, submergence of lands and devastation to our oceans. But one of the most potentially deadly effects has been far less discussed: an increase in the spread of dangerous epidemics and the risk of a global pandemic.
As the Earth’s climate alters, we are seeing changes in where and how humans live; these changes increase the risk that deadly diseases will emerge and spread more rapidly. While the interactions between climate change and disease are hard to predict with certainty, the scientific linkages are unmistakable. If we fail to integrate planning for the impact of climate change with planning for the prevention and management of pandemic disease, the consequences will be deadly.
The link between climate and disease is most often identified through the spread of disease vectors such as mosquitoes. As areas warm, habitats for insects — mosquitoes and deer ticks, for example — expand, exposing new populations to new disease threats. As Maryn McKenna recently explained in the New York Times Magazine, the approximately one degree Celsius increase in average temperatures the planet has experienced is “changing the numbers and distribution of the insect…