What a Changing Climate Means for Our Health

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Think a changing climate is only bad news for polar bears? Think again. Here are some serious ways that climate change is already impacting human health…

When we talk about climate change, most of us think in terms of its environmental impact: warmer weather, rising sea levels, the extinction of marine and animal life, the destruction of glacial and coastal habitat, etc.. We may even think about an increase in intense and deadly weather events (which we have seen increase dramatically in the past decade), or the toll that rising sea levels are taking on the livelihoods of those living in flooded coastal areas. But few of us think about the potential health consequences of a changing climate.

According to the 2016 Climate & Health Assessment – a report conducted by the U.S. Global Change Research Program – there are a number of negative impacts that climate change has for our health and the health of our children, even though, according to at least one poll, only 32 percent of Americans could name a specific way in which global warming is harming human health.

Here are just a few of the likely problems that will arise – some of which we are already witnessing:

  • Climate change is likely to compromise the food we eat, with higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere bringing down the nutritional value of crops like wheat and rice. Meanwhile, temperature and weather changes could increase the risk of food-borne illnesses like salmonella and norovirus. (Source)

  • The changing climate will likely shift the geographical range of insects that carry disease, including ticks carrying Lyme disease and mosquitos which carry malaria. The increasing number of infectious disease outbreaks such as Ebola and Zika appear to be linked, at least in part, to ongoing environmental shifts that exacerbate climate change. (Source)

  • By 2030, extreme heat during the summer months could cause the yearly number of premature deaths in the U.S. to climb 11,000 higher than the number measured in 1990. By 2100, the report says, that number could rise as many as 27,000 premature deaths higher than the 1990 figure. (Source)

  • Allergies and asthma already affect many Americans, but warmer temperatures, longer pollen seasons and air pollution can make those issues much worse. The research also found that ragweed pollen season has already grown longer in the U.S., increasing by up to 27 days between 1995 and 2011. (Source)

  • Heart and lung diseases associated with air pollution and wildfires are already increasing, according to the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, a group composed of dozens of medical groups and thousands of doctors and other medical experts.
  • Doctors within the Consortium are seeing a wide range of climate-change-related health issues, including an uptick in heat-related illnesses; worsening chronic conditions such as asthma; injuries and deaths from extreme weather like floods; infectious diseases spread by increasing populations of mosquitoes and ticks (including those that spread Lyme disease); illnesses stemming from contaminated food and water; and mental health problems like aggression and anxiety. (Source)

Now you know.



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