Climate and global warming directly influence not only the health of people but also the health of the planet in a direct correlation. As weather and ecosystems change, death and disruptions to health threaten all species according to numerous studies outlined in reports published by the United Nations, World Health Organization and Environmental Protection Agency. Findings conclude global warming and health are directly correlated.
The World Bank in conjunction with the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, recently released a report on Global Warming titled On Thin Ice: How Cutting Pollution Can Slow Warming and Save Lives. The report identified methods to cut black carbon and methane gases. This would not solve but instead mitigate the effects of climate change and in the end save millions of lives.
This study evaluated snow capped mountains, glaciers and permafrost areas. The snow capped mountains and glaciers of the Andes and Himalayas were identified as increasingly showing dirt rather than ice. Global warming has changed the climate atop the mountain ranges catastrophically to where glaciers are not as thick and now melt off into lakes and rivers flooding villages and disrupting water patterns. Consequences already include dire issues of sea level rising, water stress and volatile weather. Benefits of enacting the On Thin Ice’s suggested measures would include 16 million tons more of crops such as wheat, rice and soy as well as preserving the water resources accessed by 1.5 billion people.
Solutions identified were to lower cooking stove emissions by adopting models that are non-polluting; implement efficient wood and coal stoves as well as decrease forest and field burnings annually; lessen fossil fuel extraction; and reduce diesel transport.
As ecosystems change, health risks for humans increase. Depending upon the area, residents are subject to waterborne illnesses and infectious diseases, such as dengue fever, drought, floods, heat waves, poor air quality and severe storms. The World Health Organization confirms health risks such as diarrheal diseases. Malnutrition, malaria and dengue fever are climate induced and are presumed to become worse as the temperatures continue to rise. Social and environmental changes to health as a result of global warming include risks to food supply, air, water and shelter.
In addition to crop disruptions on land, fish die-offs can be an early indicator of a global warming affected area. Large amounts of fish deaths demonstrate the first visible signs of environmental stress and environmental agencies investigated as a matter of urgency. Fish have low tolerance to environmental variations their death alerts to problems in the environment affects other animals and plants. Direct impacts also disrupt drinking water production.
Heat waves are the most deadly of natural disasters and are highest in urban areas. In 1995, Chicago experienced a heat wave in July where around 739 people died. By 2003, Europe experienced a heat wave so severe that around 52,000 were reported dead.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that more than 126 million U.S. residents live in a county that does not meet national air quality standards. The American Lung Association identified cities in the U.S. with the highest levels of particulates, which embed deep in lungs causing health problems. The cities with the highest levels include the following:
Los Angeles, CA
On the other side of the Pacific, two thirds of the cities in China fail to meet air quality standards. The U.S. and China have the highest carbon emissions in the world. Scientists say global warming means increased frequency of days with harmful levels of ground-level ozone, a component of smog.
Respiratory health and allergies will be disrupted from changes in the time and length of pollen seasons brought on by higher temperatures and disrupted ecosystems.
Even though climate change and health are correlated, the impact on each person and community will vary. The EPA notes that affects will depend on factors such as efficiency of a community’s public health and safety systems in addressing or preparing for the risks. Effects will vary by region, population, the extent and length of exposure and ability to adapt. A person and community’s response to global warming will affect health.
By Cayce Manesiotis
Environmental Protection Agency