You might think that a little climate change would not go amiss in the British Isles. We'd have more warm summers and fewer freezing winters. What's wrong with that?
Ask the people of Yorkshire. As a result of global warming, many homeowners this week are up to their waists inmuddy water. Andflooding could be just the beginning of our worries. This week a paper in the British Medical Journal gave warning that climate change could be particularly damaging to the health of people in the developing world, but research also suggests that it could be bad news for Britain. Delegates at a conference in London on Tuesday will be told that will drive up rates of cardio-respiratory disease, diarrhoea and insect-borne diseases such as malaria in the UK.
Global warming is believed to be occurring because human activities, particularly burning fossil fuels, have released into the atmosphere huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" that are trapping more heat in the Earth's lower atmosphere. Average global surface temperatures are already rising and are predicted to increase by between 1.4C and 5.8C over the next century, bringing a higher risk of floods, droughts and heat waves.
"We are already witnessing the effects of climate change on health," says Dr Hugh Montgomery, the director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London, who has organised next week's conference at the Royal College of Physicians. The heat wave of 2003, when temperatures in the northern hemisphere reached the highest on record, killed up to 35,000 people - 2,000 of them in the UK. Last summer's floods have been shown to increase rates of mental illness (see box, left). And milder weather is likely to be behind the arrival here from Europe of the midge-borne cattle disease bluetongue.
"Each of us is, in effect, moving 6km (4 miles) south a year or 60km a decade," says Dr Montgomery. "The result will be fewer deaths from colds and flu, but more from strokes and heart attacks because of the heat. Global warming means a higher baseline temperature from which there will be more surges and extreme events."