Kimberly Rovin, MPH, Malea Hoepf Young, MPH, and Karen Hardee, PhD
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report recognized climate change as a global issue with the potential for catastrophic environmental effects. The report stated that, “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea levels.” Likewise, by the late 1980s HIV/AIDS was identified as an undeniable pandemic that would affect all countries. The similarities between climate change and HIV/AIDS extend beyond the global nature of these issues, though. Both have complex etiologies, the scientific bases of which are difficult to translate to the general public, and neither is fully understood, even by experts in their respective fields. For example, the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine continues to elude researchers largely because of an inability to understand the full extent of the virus’s extreme genetic variability and rapid mutation and adaptation capacities. Similarly, the unprecedented changes in climate that have occurred since the Industrial Revolution, and the conflation of human-based and natural drivers, prevent a definite attribution of climate change to any specific cause. Lastly, neither climate change nor HIV/AIDS are visible threats on a day-to-day basis. Once infected with HIV/AIDS, an individual may remain symptom-free for up to 10 years, obscuring internal disease progression, while climate change is a result of greenhouse gas emissions compounded over many decades, with few noticeable daily effects.