One of the most significant challenges and health risks in today’s world is climate change. With the demand for energy, fossil fuels are burned continuously releasing masses amounts of greenhouse gasses including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide that directly impact the atmosphere and cause the earth’s temperature to rise. And for this reason, it creates significant changes in ecosystems, in our environment, and in our physical and mental health.
In what ways does climate change negatively impact us? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that health effects can include respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in food-and water-borne illnesses, and other infectious diseases. In this article, we will discuss how climate change can affect our health.
Having natural and good air quality is essential for our health and environment. This includes both indoor and outdoor pollution. Unfortunately, air pollution is known to be one of the leading causes of many illnesses and even deaths per year. According to researcher Max Roser, founder of Oour World Data, he claims “Air pollution is attributed to 11.65% of deaths globally” caused by high blood pressure, respiratory infections, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Frequent exposure to polluted air can also increase reproductive and neurological disorders.
Air pollution is trapped heat from the sun in the atmosphere, resulting in an increase in global temperatures. In heavily populated urban areas, smog is produced when pollutants, like nitrogen oxides from auto exhaust and factory emissions, react with sunlight, creating a dense fog that is difficult to see. When inhaled it irritates the airways and after a long period of time can create serious heart and lung diseases.
Increasing temperatures in the atmosphere and oceans contribute to human health in a negative manner. The global climate report from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, states that 2022 was the 6th-warmest year on record.
As extreme heat waves become more frequent, they can be dangerous and even fatal. Heat waves, for instance, can lead to heat strokes, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and cardiac arrest. The National Institute of Environmental Health also suggests that temperature extremes compromise the body’s ability to regulate internal temperature.
Warmer temperatures also play a significant role in spreading diseases-carrying insects like mosquitoes and ticks, that transmit infections like Malaria, Zika, and Lyme disease. During extreme heat waves, it's important to apply insect repellent, stay dehydrated and remain in cooler areas to prevent heat exhaustion and contracting infectious diseases from insects.
Changing Weather Patterns
Changes in weather patterns also contribute to our health and safety. In the last decade, there has been an increase in global catastrophes, such as record-breaking heatwaves, wildfires, and storms.
Consequently, these catastrophes have interrupted our way of living and placed our well-being at risk. There has been an increase in the number and size of earthquakes, with one that recently hit southern Turkey last month (02/2023). The major earthquake was recorded at a 7.8 magnitude causing extensive damage, killing thousands of people and injuring thousands more.
Additionally, wildfires are also becoming more severe throughout states like California and Colorado, causing droughts affecting agriculture and forcing people to flee their homes to safety.
Other changing weather patterns include tropical storms and hurricanes that continue to intensify every year due to climate change. These natural disasters have serious impacts on our safety, agriculture, and infrastructure, so we must take them seriously.
Rising Sea Levels
Rising sea levels are another indicator that climate change is affecting our planet and health. As a result of the increase in Earth’s temperature, the ice sheets and glaciers are melting which causes the sea levels to rise. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) claims that the “sea level continues to rise at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch per year.”
The reason rising sea levels have a negative impact on human health is that coastal regions are susceptible to flooding and storm surges that cause property damage and the population can be exposed to water-borne infections. In addition, freshwater can become contaminated with salt water which may affect agriculture and drinking water supply.
Water and Food Supply
Water and food supply are the primary sources that we need to survive, but as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change, frequent occurrences of drought and floods cause disruptions in crop production.
Climate change not only affects the food and water supply but also the livestock, soil, and resources that are relied on for agricultural productivity. Climate conditions in different regions can also occur causing the growing crop to delay or worsen over the period of growth. With heavy precipitation, the crop can be damaged and the nutrients can be depleted. Additionally, other harmful bacteria and pathogens can also affect the crop that we consume causing illnesses.
When agriculture is scarce and there is a shortage of food and water supply, the impacts are vast and people can suffer from malnutrition. Read here to learn more about How Climate Change Affects Food Security.
Living a healthy and sustainable lifestyle is the goal that we all should aspire to work towards, however, we must do our part by taking small strides to slow down climate change. Although climate change continues to evolve, we are confident that we can find better solutions to improve our quality of life. To learn more read our blog, A Practical Guide to an Eco-Friendly Lifestyle.