So, how does climate change affect our health? Climate change and health: Impacts and risks
Understanding the threats that climate change poses to human health can help us work together to lower risks and be prepared, and can only be guessed at when responding to the question of “how does climate change affect our health?
Climate change threatens human health, including mental health, and access to clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food, and shelter. All of us, including Americans, at some point in their lives, are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Some people are more affected by climate change than others because of factors like where they live; their age, health, income, and occupation; and how they go about their day-to-day life.
An updated overview of recent evidence on the mental health implications of climate change is timely given the ongoing, rapid expansion of research in the broad field of health and climate change as well as increasing public concern about climate change trends and risks. The fact is that there is very little detailed research that has been done to predict how does climate change affect our health, in any detail.
However, since 2007, media reports on climate change and health have increased by 78% and the academic literature on climate and health issues has tripled. There is also increasing public and academic recognition of the extent to which rising global temperatures threaten planetary and human health. While public awareness about the health implications of climate change continues to grow, the topic of mental health in the world of depleted resources and loss of species, which should be a topic of major concern, is frequently absent from this discourse.
The impacts of climate change include:
- warming temperatures, changes in precipitation,
- increases in the frequency or intensity of some extreme weather events,
- and rising sea levels.
These impacts threaten our health by:
- affecting the food we eat,
- the water we drink,
- the air we breathe, and
- the weather we experience.
The severity of these health risks will be crucial to answering the question of how does climate change affect our health. And will depend on the ability of public health and safety systems to address or prepare for these changing threats, as well as factors such as an individual’s behavior, age, gender, and economic status.
Impacts will vary based on:
- where a person lives,
- how sensitive they are to health threats,
- how much they are exposed to climate change impacts, and
- how well they and their community are able to adapt to change.
Climate Change (CC) and Health
The health impacts of climate change at different stages of life and for certain populations of concern vary greatly in any answer to the question of how does climate change affect our health.
The information here on the health effects of climate change has been excerpted from the third national climate assessment’s health chapter. Climate change, together with other natural and human-made health stressors, influences human health and disease in numerous ways. Some existing health threats will intensify and new health threats will emerge. Not everyone is equally at risk. Important considerations include age, economic resources, and location. In the U.S., public health can be affected by disruptions of physical, biological, and ecological systems, including disturbances originating here and elsewhere. The health effects of these disruptions include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to mental health.
Periodically partners with other organizations to create and share resources on climate change and health. Lead writers regularly add articles on how does climate change affect our health to the compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of climate change. For example, they have written a compilation of evidence of the health risks of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction). There is a compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking which is now in its sixth edition. It has become an almost encyclopedic compilation of reports, peer-reviewed articles, and investigative reporting on fracking’s dangerous impacts on health.
CC and Health: Heatwaves
There’s an increasingly large number of households that are opting to take on solar energy. There are some very good reasons for this as well. The environment continues to suffer from our usage of fossil fuels and climate change is on the horizon. Not to mention, the world’s reliance on fossil fuels also adds to a wealth of detrimental health effects that shouldn’t be ignored. Carbon emissions are harmful and they need to be reduced as much as possible. If you’re wondering if solar panels can help combat this, you’re on the right track.
Part of the information on the health effects of climate change here, has been excerpted from the third national climate assessment’s health. In the U. S., public health can be affected by disruptions of physical, biological, and ecological systems, including disturbances originating here and elsewhere. The health effects of these disruptions include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to mental health.
CC and Health: Wildfires
Disaster stories make highly sought after stories for the news media. Consequently, occurrences of California wildfires, over the two years after the first articles were written, spawned numerous alarming stories about wildfires increasing, due to climate change. The public is now very aware of the rising number and intensity of wildfires both in North America and around the entire globe.
This is becoming a major climate change health risk and is leading to the enactment of relevant laws, and the redirection of human resources to methods of minimizing the frequency and damage of such fires.
Due to notorious climate change, seasons have become harsher and more unpredictable than ever before. Especially when it comes to the summer season, the severe weather conditions are likely to pose a threat to our health. Surviving extreme heat is not only difficult for people with health issues, but this is also a problem for the people who are physically fit. Since a heatwave is often followed by high humidity, the human body needs to work hard so as to keep an optimal temperature and prevent a heat stroke. By cooling down, you shall spare your body a lot of work. But constantly running air-conditioning systems consumes energy, and while that energy comes from burning fossil fuels, this only serves to accelerate climate change.
People in developing countries may be the most vulnerable to health risks globally, but climate change poses significant threats to health even in wealthy nations such as the United States. Certain populations, such as children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with low incomes, face increased risks.
CC and Health: Hurricanes
Changes in the climate affect the air we breathe both indoors and outdoors. Warmer temperatures and shifting weather patterns can worsen air quality, which can lead to asthma attacks and other respiratory and cardiovascular health effects. Wildfires, which are expected to continue to increase in number and severity as the climate changes, create smoke and other unhealthy air pollutants. Rising carbon dioxide levels and warmer temperatures also affect airborne allergens, such as ragweed pollen. Despite significant improvements in U. S. air quality since the 1970s, as of 2014, about 57 million Americans lived in counties that did not meet national air quality standards. Climate change may make it even harder for states to meet these standards in the future, exposing more people to unhealthy air.
Moving forward guidance is badly needed for health professionals to develop health programs to try to offset the worst climate change health implications through public health and educational strategies. This will need to include guidance on the amelioration of climate change and tools to reduce energy use. There is a need to build resilient clinics and health departments and advocate for climate solutions that prioritize health and equity. Messaging on the climate emergency is important to convey the severe threats that climate change poses, without driving people into either denial or despair.
The author of this piece came to know about the existence of a climate change tipping point several years ago when researching climate change. This occurred before global warming was even a mainstream phrase. At the time I was warning my family and friends about climate change, its impact on the earth, us, and civilization in general. I was met with sometimes blank stares and nonchalant attitudes (this was before Al Gore even came out with the wildly successful movie “An Inconvenient Truth”. I even wrote an article for a newspaper column about this and how we would be having major hurricanes in the future. I said at that time that these would be due to the effects of climate change and global warming on earth. Little did I know that hurricane Katrina would come a few months after. We all know what’s happened since then with hurricane Ike and many others.
CC and Health: Infectious Disease
Acting on the health consequences of climate change requires actions rooted in both mitigation and adaptation at all levels, from global to local, and from all sectors and individuals. Climate change mitigation refers to overarching efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance carbon sinks to slow the speed, scale, and magnitude of climate change. Key climate change mitigation priorities include:
- reducing energy demand (through reduced consumption and increased energy efficiency);
- a swift and equitable transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy;
- reducing emissions from agriculture and forestry; and
- strengthening land-based emissions sequestration.
Climate change adaptation refers to interventions that respond to the effects of climate change by adjusting, moderating, and coping with the risks and impacts of climate change.
Scientists project that warmer temperatures from climate change will increase the frequency of days with unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone, a harmful air pollutant, and a component in smog. People exposed to higher levels of ground-level ozone are at greater risk of dying prematurely or being admitted to the hospital for respiratory problems. Ground-level ozone can damage lung tissue, reduce lung function, and inflame airways. This can aggravate asthma or other lung diseases. Children, older adults, outdoor workers, and those with asthma and other chronic lung diseases are, particularly at risk.
There can be no discussion about climate change without a meaningful conversation about public health. As leading health experts have affirmed, the climate crisis is a threat multiplier, particularly for communities suffering from environmental injustice. For example, the fourth national climate assessment, published in 2018 by a collaboration among 13 U. S. Scientific agencies, highlights how higher temperatures, severe weather events, and rising seas can contribute to heat-related cardiopulmonary illness, infectious disease, and mental health issues. Societal factors such as poverty, discrimination, access to health care, and pre-existing health conditions make some populations even more vulnerable.
CC and Health: Health Effects
Climate change is a phenomenon that has put the whole world in high alert. The changes in temperature that the world is experiencing will have detrimental effects on every ecosystem we know of. This is why it’s so crucial to revert the changes made by fossil fuel usage and slow climate change to a halt. Solar power usage has become one of the symbols for individual efforts in combating climate change. While installing solar panels might be somewhat costly at first, the benefits that they provide for the fight against climate change are well-worth the trouble. If everyone were to use solar panels, fossil fuel usage would go down and carbon emissions would grind to halt. If that weren’t enough, solar panels are considered efficient enough to be seen as an investment, which only adds to the countless benefits they already provide for the environment.
In America with the Trump administration now in place, there are many reasons for concern. But I want to suggest that the deepest and most profound reason to be concerned about human health in the years to come is climate change. 2016 was announced to have been the warmest year ever measured and many people were surprised, but since then each year gets warmer. By many measures, this followed similar records set in 2014 and 2015.
Ari Bernstein has pointed out that when you change the climate, you are sort of changing the rules of the game for human civilization because everything is interrelated and it quickly becomes very difficult to predict the tipping points for severely damaging health problems. Noah Leavitt has also contributed to an in-depth conversation about the effects of climate change and the steps we can take to reduce the damage.
Health impacts of climate change and health and social inequalities in the UK
This article examines how social and health inequalities shape the health impacts of climate change in the UK just as they do globally, and what the implications are for climate change adaptation and health care provision. The evidence generated articles of the special issue were interpreted using social justice reasoning in light of additional literature, to draw out the key implications of health and social inequalities for health outcomes of climate change.
Main health-related concerns about the direct effects of a warming climate just for the UK, have been listed as:
- exposure to more extreme heat and cold
- heat-related illness
- air pollution
- raised pollen counts
- food safety risks
- disruptions to access to and functioning of health services and facilities
- emerging infections and including heat-related illness, deaths due to excessively high and low temperatures and the effect of these on physical and mental health
- more frequent and more intense flooding
- smoke from wildfires
- drought and general water shortages
- food shortages
- damage to and loss of property and essential shelter
- war and population movement due to reductions in productive land areas.
All of these are now being examined as the key impacts of climate change influencing health outcomes. Age, pre-existing medical conditions, and social deprivation are found to be the key (but not only) factors that make people vulnerable and to experience more adverse health outcomes related to climate change impacts.
Indirect effects are also expected to arise from interactions between the environment and populations. For example, through disruption of food supply, economies, and international relations. In the UK a report highlighted the health-related impacts of climate change include those arising from higher summer temperatures, more frequent flooding, poorer air and water quality, and changes in the incidence of food, water, and vector-borne disease. Disruption of health and social care services is also expected, both in terms of increased need for emergency response and effects on day-to-day running of services.
Climate Change and Health Equity
The links between climate change and health are many and complex. Ari Bernstein, who is associate director of the center for health in the global environment at the Harvard Chan School, and also a pediatrician at the Boston Children’s Hospital has much specialist knowledge in this area. What we know about the health effects of climate change and what can be done to mitigate those effects needs to be put into urgent action. Good communication is now vital about climate change, and strategies need devising to convince those, about the effects, who are maybe still skeptical. In future episodes will be looking specifically at how climate change may affect our food supply and even mental health.
“whereas global climate change is a threat to the united states national security, public health, national economy, and the legacy we will leave to our children;”
[this clause summarizes the rationale of the resolution, making sweeping claims whose severity is not supported by the facts. ].
Seasonal allergies can provoke serious health issues if untreated, such as problems with sinuses that can lead to other complications. Seasonal allergy symptoms are similar to cold and include a runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, and sinus congestion, but last much longer. While colds last for a week seasonal allergies can stay in the system for a month or longer. Allergy sufferers should know when allergy season starts and when it ends that is usually in spring, but can also be harmful towards the beginning of summer. Pollen allergies have been frequently associated with asthma. Higher pollen levels are also more prevalent in the circumstances of climate change.
What do I need to know about climate change and health?
Already in this conversation, we’ve spoken specifically about communicating about climate change, and strategies to reach those who may be skeptical about the effects. In future episodes will be looking specifically at how climate change may affect our food supply and even mental health. But for now, here’s part one of our conversation with Ari Bernstein, and Noah Leavitt of which you are a pediatrician. But also your work may be based at the Center for Health and the Global Environment.
According to the 2014 national climate assessment, climate change poses increased health risks, including respiratory disease and asthma attacks resulting from higher levels of ground-level ozone, heatstroke, and cardiovascular failure due to warmer temperatures. Other concerns they listed on that occasion were the increased distribution of vector-borne diseases due to a changing climate, and mental health problems and fatalities related to extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.
Climate change and health – Reducing your impact and improving your health
Serious action must be taken to protect the health and well-being of people worldwide, especially those who live in vulnerable populations. Just in the U. S. alone, reducing greenhouse gases would have major health benefits in the near and long term and could save thousands of lives. Ironically, the U. S. Healthcare Sector is a significant contributor to climate change, accounting for about 10% of total U. S. Greenhouse gas emissions. It alone is the seventh-largest producer of carbon dioxide worldwide.
Mitigating climate change would also help to:
- stop the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, save billions of dollars of health-related costs, and
- have positive long-term impacts on mental health.
Most importantly, though, it would save lives. According to the U. S. Global change research program, by the end of this century, an additional 9,000 people will die every year from extreme temperatures in the US Authorities.
The built environment offers opportunities to improve health and livability while reducing the GHG emissions that underlie climate change. This article contributes to a growing dialogue addressing the impacts of climate change on human health. It does this by highlighting built environment strategies that minimize the effects of climate change and concurrently improve health. Research on these relationships, although needed, is difficult because built environment data are infrequently collected and usually local in nature. By contrast, climate change indicators such as temperature, weather, wind, and precipitation trends can often be measured on a macro-scale level.
The health sector must be ready to acknowledge, understand, and help societies to mitigate the impacts and to adapt to this new world while promoting better and more equitable conditions for all people. First, the health sector should lead by example:
- reducing health systems’ emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) while helping to stimulate change in the entire health system supply chain.
- To achieve that, health care facilities need to be made safer, more resilient, and more environmentally friendly.
- Reducing emissions helps mitigate the impacts of climate change and improves air quality, with beneficial health gains.
Worldwide, more than 7 million deaths annually are attributable to air pollution.
Climate change and health – Staying healthy in a changing climate
Relatively early on the idea of global warming was compelling because people were saying that by changing the composition of the atmosphere we were going to change the climate. So, when I went to medical school, I was thinking that this has got to matter to people’s health. At that time relatively few people were engaged. But it was apparent then as it is now, that climate change has vast implications for our ability to lead healthy lives.
It’s official now that despite the incredible strides we’re seeing in science and technology, life expectancies are stalling or even falling in much of the developed world. Recent statistics from the centers for disease control show life expectancy has fallen for the third year in a row in the U. S. in 2018. There are also ominous signs the UK is heading in the same direction with growth in life expectancy stalling, according to the New York Times, after many years on an upward trajectory. The challenge of the aging society is fast becoming the “climate change of health care.” so says Brian Kennedy, director of Singapore’s Center for Healthy Aging. As with global warming, he argues, many of the solutions rest on changing people’s behavior-modifying diet and other lifestyle habits.
How Does Climate Change Affect our Health? A Summary
The lack of attention to the topic of climate change and mental health is often imputed to the challenges of attribution. Attribution in this case is the scientific association between greenhouse gas emissions and meteorological change on the one hand, and between climate change-related meteorological change and mental health effects on the other. There is now an increasingly strong body of literature that highlights the causal linkages between climate change and extreme weather events. One of the key messages within this literature is that while we cannot say with certainty that any one specific extreme weather event is directly caused by climate change. However, we do know that because of climate change, extreme weather is more generally on the rise, making extreme weather events more frequent, intense, and complex.
Climate change and the direct impacts of higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are expected to affect food safety and nutrition. Extreme weather events can also disrupt or slow the distribution of food. Higher air temperatures can increase cases of salmonella and other bacteria-related food poisonings. That’s because bacteria grow more rapidly in warm environments. These diseases can cause gastrointestinal distress and, in severe cases, death. Practices to safeguard food can help avoid these illnesses even as climate changes occur.
Excess morbidity and mortality related to extremely hot weather and poor air quality are found in cities worldwide. This is a major public health concern for cities now and looking toward the future because the interactions of global climate change, urban heat islands, and air pollution are predicted to place increasing health burdens on cities. The proposed mitigation and adaptation strategies in cities’ climate risk management plans may produce health co-benefits by reducing emissions and cooling temperatures through changes in the built environment. There are challenges, however, to implementing the plans and the most widely documented beneficial policy to date is the adoption of heat warning and air quality alert systems to trigger emergency responses.