Updated: Jan 13
Climate change impacts adversely effect public health. From rising temperatures to the increase in greenhouse gases. Many factors can play a secondary role in health issues. We tend to overlook some of the not so obvious factors. This is based on the lack of understanding of how climate change plays a key role to our growing health problems.
Part I: Pathways
There are many pathways that will affect the human population with a changing climate. Climate change won’t be just about a warming climate- we will see the impacts on the human body, ecosystems, agriculture, water, increase of natural disasters, transmission of diseases through insects and many other issues we face as the earth’s temperature increases. Below are a few of the pathways that will become a problem in a warming climate.
Modern cities tend to have more businesses and office/indoor workers as where rural location, or less developed countries rely on farming and these areas will suffer the most. In modern cities such as Dallas, Texas, the heat index in the summertime can reach 110-120 degree Fahrenheit, but workers are typically indoors. However, if you move to the areas outside Dallas where the local communities rely on agriculture, farming, and ranching, these individuals are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and dehydration from being outdoors too long. Our southern US states tend to handle heat and heats waves better than our northern states do. This is because most homes in the south have an air conditioner. According to a study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2014),“Nearly 200,000 heat-related deaths are projected to occur in the 12 cities by the end of the century due to climate warming, over 22,000 of which could be avoided if we follow a low GHG emission pathway.” The study pulled data on Daily non-accidental mortality counts in more mild temperature, northern US cities from 1987 to 2005. They then used global models to predict mortality rates through the end of the 21st century. The caveat to this study was using the same population numbers in the 2010 census across the century and did not factor in the population growth and growing number of vulnerable at-risk groups. Knowing this limitation, we could see a much higher mortality rate of 200,000 based on the exponential growth of the population.
As temperatures increase around the globe, disease transmission via insects is now on the rise. As ticks and mosquitos move further north, we are now faced with the transmission of diseases, and this includes higher altitude locations. In Africa, the increase of malaria and dengue fever are on the rise. As the atmosphere heats up, we have more water vapor in the mid-levels, and this increases our relative humidity levels and increases the amount of rain that falls during storms and tropical cyclones leading to more flooding events. These weather events and increase of moisture and water create the optimal habitat for these disease transmitting insects to thrive in. Unfortunately, our biggest downfall is the lack of preparation to respond to these public health issues with climate change.
Our food supply is also threatened as global temperatures rise. The world is already seeing more extreme weather events, and this impacts our ability to grow a variety of crops. At the rate we are headed, there will be more damaged to crops by droughts, floods, and other weather-related events. This puts a strain on the food supply system, public health, and nutrition. According to the 2021 annual review of public health, “Food production is affected by climate change, which in turn is responsible for 20–30% of greenhouse gases (GHGs).” Food production will be limited to specific hardy crops we are able to grow. However the area of concern is the lack of diversity which affects human health and nutrition that would lead to malnourished sections of the population without the diversity of food sources.
The ARPH has a list of things to expect in a warming climate and it’s a dire warning of what to expect in the future. Climate change will threaten our food production and supply. Here are a few things they say we can expect as the temperatures heat up:
Hotter climates shift production toward the poles and will also cause faster plant growth and ripening and decrease nutrient density.
Areas of dry land will increase, while some regions will have increased rainfall.
The amount of arable land in use is almost at a maximum. Increasing environmental degradation, desertification, soil depletion, overgrazing, rising sea levels, urban development, roads, and industrial use may reduce land further.
Saltwater encroachment will affect some particularly low-lying, but highly productive rice-growing areas of Asia. As a result, agricultural productivity will have to increase.
Adverse weather events including storms, hurricanes, droughts, flooding, landslides, and erosion will increase in frequency and severity, which will damage crops and disrupt harvesting, transportation, and storage. (Taken from the 2021 Annual Review on Climate Change.)
Clean water access could become scarcer in the very near future. With the increase in rainfall and more flooding events, wastewater systems could flood and contaminate local water tables. In a study conducted in Italy and publish in Water Research Peer Reviewed Journals scientist say, “scenarios for the year 2100 demonstrate that climate change combined with increasing urbanization is likely to lead to severe worsening of river water quality due to a doubling of the total phosphorus load from CSOs compared to the current load.” Even the most sophisticated cities will be challenged by the many aspects of climate change. Unfortunately, for countries with limited access to clean water, this will cause higher mortality rates from contaminated and polluted water.
Climate change can affect people in a variety of ways- especially when we are looking at mental health. As we see more changes with the climate, the uptick in the direct and indirect mental health cases will rise. In an article publish in the Journal of Mental Health Systems (2018), “Direct psychosocial consequences of climate change include trauma related to extreme weather events, like floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and heat waves Indirect mental health consequences of climate change occur through social, economic, and environmental disruptions such as famine, civil conflict, displacement, and migration which is related to a changing climate.” In a study done in 2016, individuals were exposed to CO2 in work and school settings over a 6-hour period. The study found CO2 exposure affected every person’s cognitive levels, decision making, and planning. (Alan, 2016) Other studies have found a list of other mental health issues which include anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness, learning and memory impairment, and harm to brain development.
Part II: Adaptation
How do we adapt to climate change? There are several way we can mitigate and adapt strategies. Examples of specific actions can simultaneously reduce exposure and are listed as follows:
1. Reduce your carbon footprint
Check out these website for more information on the small steps you can make that
have big impact:
2. Move from a gas vehicle to an electric vehicle to reduce the amount of co2.
I know this isn't possible for a lot of people, but look into finding a way to become less
dependent on vehicle that release co2 into the atmosphere. It is an adjustment, but once
you learn how to navigate the new world in an electric vehicle you can say good bye to
the gas station!
3. Get involved in your community. Vote. Work to change policies. Demand corporate
responsibility for the items the make for proper disposal.
4. Support local, sustainable agriculture.
Keep foods local. You will have less waste from items that would likely perish. Buying
local puts money back into your local economy, and you don't have to pay to have it
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