Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Top Ways Climate Change Affects Your Health



By John Simmons

People often have a hard time grasping exactly how climate change affects them. While many of us are aware that the ice caps are shrinking, temperatures are rising and water levels are going up, these are all things that the average person does not come up against in their daily life. It is hard to be concerned about something that does not seem to affect our lives in any significant way. Yet, as it turns out, climate change affects a very significant part of our lives: our health. Here are the top ways climate change affects your health: 

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Higher risk of respiratory problems

Higher temperatures lead to higher levels of pollen and other airborne allergens in the air. While this may seem like a mild side effect, these allergens can trigger asthma, which affects around 300 million people. Higher temperatures can also lead to higher levels of pollutants such as ozone in the air, which not only are harmful to breathe but also intensify the effects of cardiovascular and respiratory disease. These can have deadly effects, as our next section will discuss. As temperatures continue to increase, these health impact are expected to increase as well.  



Higher death toll 

Extremely high air temperatures are a large contributor to deaths from the aforementioned cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as heat stroke and dehydration. According to a climate change fact sheet  published by the World Health Organization (WHO), higher levels of air pollution due to climate change in cities causes about 1.2 million deaths every year. The elderly are especially susceptible to higher temperatures, as their bodies are less able to compensate for changes in temperature and they may be less able to find ways to cool down effectively. A study published in US National Library of Medicine found that in Europe during the summer heatwave of 2003, more than 70,000 excess deaths occurred, many of them the elderly. 

Increased risk of infection

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Climate conditions also greatly affect waterborne diseases and diseases spread by cold-blooded creatures such as snails, mosquitoes, and other insects. Rising temperatures lead to longer transmission seasons for several vector-borne diseases—such as schistosomiasis, a disease carried by snails—as well as broaden the range of these diseases. Malaria and Dengue Fever, two diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, are very dependent on proper climate for effective transmission. Studies examining Dengue Fever alone suggest that over the next 60 years an additional two billion people will be infected with the disease due to climate change.

Increases occurrence of natural disasters

The largest way climate change affects our daily lives is by increasing the intensity and frequency of weather-related disasters. This includes hurricanes, tsunamis, and floods, but also droughts and famine. For those living near the coast, this often results in loss of property, increased risk of health effects such as the ones listed above, and potentially death. According to WHO, disasters such as these dislocate populations as well as ruin food supplies and farmland, all of which lead to increased risk of negative health effects such as communicable diseases.


All of these effects of climate change impact people just like you and me, all over the world. In an assessment published in 2009, WHO concluded that the global warming that has taken place since the 1970s has already caused more than 140,000 excess deaths per year. These risks are serious, and only stand to increase if climate change continues to be accelerated by human action.

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