Climate Change: A Threat to Global Health
Updated: Dec 7, 2021
By Shelly Bhagat, Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS), St. Louis, Missouri, USA
One of the greatest threats to humanity is climate change, the effects of which have become evident in recent years with wildfires raging through the west coast of the United States, glaciers and icecaps melting in the arctic, and an increasing number of seasonal hurricanes. Scientists predict that we have approximately ten years to reverse climate change before its effects become permanent.
Climate change didn’t start just recently. Over the last 130 years, the Earth “has warmed by approximately 0.85°C,” with each decade getting progressively warmer than the last; the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are currently the highest they have been in 800,000 years (“Climate Change Indicators: Greenhouse Gases,” n.d.). However, the last 50 years have been exceptionally damaging due to a 7% increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 1900 to 2014, primarily coming from electricity generation and transportation (“Climate Change and Health,” n.d.). Greenhouse gasses cause a warming effect by blocking heat from escaping the atmosphere. Some of these gasses remain in the atmosphere semi-permanently and “do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature” (“The Causes of Climate Change,” n.d.). But how does climate change affect global health, and how can its effects be reversed before it’s too late?
Climate change causes extreme heat waves, which are directly linked to “heat stroke and related conditions [such as] cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and cerebrovascular disease” (“Climate Effects on Health,” n.d.). Long periods of high temperatures can create droughts, which fuel wildfires that emit harmful compounds such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. Exposure to such compounds “increases respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalizations” as well as “bronchitis, chest pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary, and respiratory infections” and causes over one hundred thousand deaths per year (“Climate Effects on Health,” n.d.). Droughts and increases in carbon dioxide can also decrease annual crop yield, exacerbating the spread of famine in certain parts of the world (“Climate Effects on Health,” n.d.). Air pollution generally increases ground level ozone, a component of smog, and causes “diminished lung function, increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for asthma, and increases in premature deaths” (“Climate Effects on Health,” n.d.).
Some of the impacts of climate change on human health (CDC)
In certain parts of the world, climate change results in a large number of floods and increased precipitation. This amplifies the spread of waterborne pathogens that cause diarrheal disease and mold contamination in buildings. All of this leads to adverse health effects such as severe allergic reactions and pneumonia (“Climate Effects on Health,” n.d.). A drastic change in precipitation can also lead to an increase in diseases such as malaria, dengue, and Lyme disease, all caused by vectors such as mosquitos and ticks.
To prevent the increase of these health risks, we must reduce our carbon footprint. Some ways to do this include investing in renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power. Be mindful of the appliances that you are buying and ensure that they are energy efficient. Walk, bike, carpool with a friend, or take public transportation whenever you can. Use LED lightbulbs that use up 80% less energy than traditional bulbs (Denchak, 2017). Choose plant-based foods over processed meat as “livestock products are among the most resource-intensive to produce” (Denchak, 2017). We all need to do our part to keep our planet clean so that future generations can be as healthy as possible and enjoy its beauty.
Climate Change and Health. (n.d.). World Health Organization. Retrieved October 9, 2020, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health
Climate change and public health [Photograph]. (n.d.). CDC.
Climate Change Indicators: Greenhouse Gases. (n.d.). EPA. Retrieved October 9, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/greenhouse-gases
Climate effects on health. (n.d.). Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 8, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/default.htm
Denchak, M. (2017, July 17). How You Can Stop Global Warming. NRDC. Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-you-can-stop-global-warming
Mitigation and adaptation [Photograph]. (n.d.). NASA.
The Causes of Climate Change. (n.d.). NASA. Retrieved October 9, 2020, from https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/