How Climate Change Affects Global Health
When you watch the news or scroll through your social media feeds, you probably see reports about how climate change is impacting the environment and causing us to experience hotter and hotter days. You might have learned about how it’s creating more extreme weather events and making it difficult to grow certain crops.
However, this dangerous phenomenon’s effects extend beyond the environment… Straight to our health.
There’s no doubt about it: the statistics are frightening. According to the World Health Organization, “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.”
That’s a quarter of a million lives lost – per year.
That statistic is alarming, and yet it only gives us one insight into how human health will be impacted by climate change. The National Institute of Health reports that the impact of climate change will increase:
Who belongs to the vulnerable demographic sectors? The poor, the elderly, the young, and especially those living in Africa and Southeast Asia, will be impacted the most. Those specific areas have poor environmental conditions, weak health infrastructure, and an incapacity to respond in a rapid and effective manner when diseases arise.
However, climate change is not only going to affect people in those areas. Everyone’s clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secure shelter will be at risk because of rising temperatures.
For example: heat-related illnesses can not be ignored. According to The Union of Concerned Scientists, between 2036-2065, “The average number of days per year with a heat index of above 100 degrees F will more than double, while the number of days per year above 105 degrees F will quadruple.”
The consequences of these high temperature days are severe. During the summer, the number of cases of heat exhaustion and dehydration have already begun to rise to dangerous levels, especially for low-income individuals who can’t afford adequate housing with air conditioning. If we don’t work to mitigate the effects of climate change, those cases will increase with associated heat stroke.
The American Clinical and Climatological Association emphasizes other ways that climate change will impact our health.
“The atmospheric events most relevant to human health include changes in mean conditions and variability of temperature, precipitation, humidity and wind that are likely to
These are complicated ideas, and they have complex consequences for us. By listing them this way, we can understand that the effects of climate change on human health are both obvious and hidden.
For example, we’ve mentioned diseases several times now. Some people might be uncertain about how climate change could have an effect on something that seems so unrelated.
The World Health Organization advises that patterns of infection will be affected by changes in climate.
“Climatic conditions strongly affect water-borne diseases and diseases transmitted through insects, snails or other cold-blooded animals. Changes in climate are likely to lengthen the
transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases and to alter their geographic range.
For example, climate change is projected tosignificantly widen the area of China where the snail-borne disease schistosomiasis occurs.
Malaria is strongly influenced by climate. Transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes, malaria kills over 400 000 people every year – mainly children under 5 years old in certain African countries.
The Aedes mosquito vector of dengue is also highly sensitive to climate conditions, and studies suggest that climate change is likely to continue to increase exposure to dengue and other mosquito-borne illnesses including West Nile and Chikungunya.”
Lyme disease and associated tick-borne disorders are expected to significantly increase in number and range as insects’ reproductive abilities are amplified at higher temperatures.
Tropical cyclones, hurricanes and storms surges in the past few years have also resulted in water damaged buildings and toxic mold overgrowth with insidious health effects, including chronic fatigue, headaches and fungal sinusitis, increased allergies, exacerbation of asthma, increased respiratory infections as well as kidney, liver and lung disease, immune suppression, and cancer.
It’s difficult to understand all the different ways that climate change can impact our health. Some are obvious (such as heat-related illnesses and deaths) while others (like increased diseases and toxicants) aren’t as immediately evident.
And yet, those are only some of the effects that climate change will have on human health. The others that have been mentioned here are just as serious, and they’re not going away without serious intervention. It’s up to us to work to mitigate the effects of climate change.
That’s the only way that we can save the planet – and our health.