Climate change is literally the most dangerous threat to human survival in modern world. The impacts of climate change include various conditions such as irregularity of temperatures, precipitation changes, unnatural intensity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. These impacts can harm our health by affecting our food, water, air, and weather.
People living in developing countries are most vulnerable to health threats due to the impacts of climate change. However, people in wealthy nations are also significantly affected by climate change. Certain groups of population that include children, old, pregnant women and financially challenged are at higher risks.
Here I have made a brief note on how human health is affected by the harmful impacts of climate change and some possible things that we can do to contribute in order to reduce those impacts.
Impacts of Temperature
Warmer average temperatures lead to hotter days and longer heat waves. Thousands of people die due to extreme heat by the end of summer every year. Exposure to excessive heat can lead to dehydration and heat stroke, including other cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
Impacts of increase in temperature is more likely to affect areas where people have never experienced extreme heat and are less prepare to adapt such weather. Certain category of population such as homeless, outdoor workers and athletes who spend most of their time outdoors are more vulnerable than others as they are more exposed. Use of air conditioner can somewhat help people cope with the temperature, but many older adults and low-income households may not be able to access air-conditioning.
Also, young children, older adults, pregnant women and individuals with medical conditions are least able to regulate their body temperature due to which they are more vulnerable to the threats of increasing temperature and global warming.
Change in Air Quality
Climate change brings big difference to the quality of air we breathe. Increasing temperature and frequently changing weather can worsen the air quality that may lead to some respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Wildfires drastically increase due to the impact, which result in increased smoke and unhealthy air pollutants. Warmer temperature and rising carbon dioxide also effect many airborne allergens leading to hundreds of pre-mature deaths.
Increases Ozone Level
Warmer temperature can highly affect the ground-level ozone. Generally, ozone layer protects us from harmful effects of ultraviolet rays emitted by sun, but when the ozone gas is increased in the ground level, it turns out to be a harmful air pollutant with smog component that can be lethal for human.
Ground-level ozone can damage lung function by attacking lung tissue and cause air-way inflammation. This triggers asthma and other lung diseases. Outdoor workers, Children, older adults and people with chronic lung disease or respiratory condition are particularly more vulnerable.
Irregularity in Matter Particulates
Particulate matter is a classification of liquid droplets and tiny particles suspended in earth's atmosphere. Particles that are as small as 2.5 micrometers are considered as fine particles. Some particulate is naturally occurring, such as sea spray, smoke from wild fire, and dust, whereas, some particulate is formed by human activities. These particles may be created directly by burning fossil fuels or formed due to some chemical reaction of harmful gases in the atmosphere.
Inhaling the air contaminated with fine particles may cause adverse health effects that may include pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. Climate change can increase the severity of wildfires due to which the particulate in the smoke is carried longer distance, affecting even the population living very far from the source of the pollutant. Outdoor professionals like fire fighters are more exposed to its impacts. Also, older adults are more sensitive to the effects of the particles with higher risk of death.
People can get very sick when exposed to contaminated drinking or recreational water. Change in climate can increase the risk of sickness through warmer temperature, increasingly heavy rains and run off and the effects of extreme weather events like storms. Impacts on health due to waterborne illness may include disease like diarrhea, effects on respiratory and nervous system and kidney or liver malfunction.
Climate change increases the risk of exposure to waterborne pathogen such as bacteria, virus and other harmful parasites, toxin released by deadly algal bloom and dangerous chemicals created by human activity.
Warmer temperature leads to unnatural presence of harmful bacteria and algal toxins in water or sea food that were not considered threats previously during a particular season. Due to extreme weather events like frequent heavy rainfall or storms, the infrastructure of water bodies such as dinking and recreational water, and selfish harvesting will be increasingly contaminated with higher risk of people being exposed to illness.
Diseases that are transmitted by insects such as ticks, mosquitoes and fleas as vectors to human beings are known as vector-borne diseases. The vectors behave as a mode of carrier for various infectious pathogens such as bacteria, virus and protozoa from animal to humans. Changes in precipitation, temperature and extreme weather events can increase the range of various diseases spread by vector, causing illness and thousands of deaths
As the temperature changes drastically, ticks that carry diseases become more active due to warmer condition even during their supposed-to-be dormant season. Due to extreme weather condition and higher rate of precipitation, mosquitoes are able to breed in wider range, spreading numerous diseases like malaria and dengue, which can be lethal when not treated on time. Hundreds of people die every year due to negligence.
The spread of these diseases depend both on climatic factors and some non-climate factors like pest control, land use, social hygiene, cultural conditions and access to health care.
Most allergies are triggered by pollens. It has been noticed that climate change lead to increased length of some season during which the allergic causing plants flower and release pollens. Longer season results in higher formation of pollens of certain plants that causes respiratory illness like hay fever and asthma.
Hundreds of people are diagnosed with asthma every year. In addition to increasing length of season, higher rate of carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures may also result in earlier flowering, enormous amount of flowers and increased pollen levels in some plants like ragweed.
Extreme Weather Events
One of the immense impacts of climate change is the increase in severity of weather events such as intense precipitation, flood, storm and drought, which threaten human health during and after the event. Older people, younger children, individuals with medical conditions and the poor are always at higher risk. These intense events can affect human health in various ways;
· Reduces the availability of safe drinking water and food.
· Roads and bridges are destructed, disrupting the access to paramedics and hospitals.
· Utility, communications and medical services for health care are interrupted.
· Improper use of generators during storms or after may lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be fatal.
· Many suffer from depression, trauma and stress after the severe events. People who already have mental conditions may worsen, which can also cause death.
· Older adults and people with disabilities may be affected if they are not able to evacuate during emergency. They are more vulnerable to be trapped.
Increase in carbon dioxide due to climate change can immensely affect food safety. Higher concentration of carbon dioxide act as fertilizer and enhances growth of some plants, but reduces protein and mineral contents in crops like rice, potato and wheat, making them less nutritious. Severe weather events can also slow food distribution when roads and waterways are disrupted. During heavy floods, runoff water can contaminate the food chain by introducing various harmful parasites and toxin.
Warmer temperature increases bacterial growth that causes food poisoning which can lead to gastrointestinal distress and death in severe cases. Chemical contamination in food is at higher risk due to the impacts of climate change. Once the food is affected, it directly affects human health.
If there is any change in a person's surrounding, it directly influences the mental health of that individual. For example, extreme weather event can cause stress, trauma and other mental disorders, particularly if the person loses their property or loved ones in the event.
Even the perceived forecast of climate change that the person has read in a newspaper or watched in television can highly influence mental health and stress. Some group of population including older adults, children, pregnant women, post-partum women, people with lower incomes, and individuals with pre-existing mental illness are at higher risk.
Studies have shown that individuals who already have mental illness are most vulnerable to intense heat, as their risk of death is tripled. Warmer temperature is a threat to people who are in medication for mental-illness as many of them are not able to regulate their body temperature, which might result in heart attack and instant death.
Preventing Impacts of Weather Change
We cannot totally stop the climate from changing but all can contribute a little to reduce the impacts of change by controlling some activities and adapting some ways to control the possible sources of climate change. Given below is a list of things that we can do to reduce the harmful effects of climate change in human health;
Be more Energy Efficient
The first step towards reducing the impact of climate change is to be more energy efficient, as a lot of carbon dioxide is released during energy formation. Here are some ways that you can adapt in order to be more energy efficient;
· Switch off all electronic appliances like lights, fan, TV, computer, etc. when not in use.
· Use LED or compact fluorescents instead of light bulbs.
· Cool wash and dry clothes outside instead of using electrical cloth dryer.
· Use green energy for electricity like solar at home and office.
· Purchase only those appliances with energy star ratings as these products utilize up to 20% less energy than standard products.
· For electricity during power-cuts, install solar panel instead of generators.
Reduce Carbon Footprint
Many human activities leave behind carbon footprint that contributes to the irregularity in matter particulate. You can change some of your daily activities to control this;
· Recycle and reuse as much rubbish as possible. For example, metal, glass and plastic materials can be easily recycled and used for other purposes. Also, compost vegetable scrapes.
· Properly dispose off unwanted chemicals instead of putting those in the rubbish bin or pouring down the sink.
· Purchase items with least packaging.
· If possible, go for refurbished items rather than new ones.
· Buy items that are made of low-impact, but sustainable materials.
Reduce Emission from Transit
A lot of pollutants are emitted by vehicles that are used for transportation, making them one of the major sources of air pollution. Some ways to reduce this emission are given below;
· Instead of driving, depend more on biking, public transportation or walking.
· Drive smoothly and slowly. While driving, maintain light accelerations and go easy on brakes and pedals.
· Check your car's tires pressure regularly, and keep them inflated to the pressure that has been recommended.
· Purchase a car which is fuel-efficient.
· For short trips, prefer walking or biking.
· While flying, pack lighter as lesser fuel is consumed when the plane is light, and hence reducing carbon footprint.
· Night flights have greater impact on climate, so prefer travel during the day.
Surrounding heat can influence your body temperature and cause a huge impact on health. You can make heat stay in or out depending on the season by properly insulating your home. Using window coverings to seal the crack will keep in or block out warmth.
This will allow you to reduce temperature by 2°C during winter. With the windows sealed properly, you can use fans to circulate the air around the room and set air conditioners to stabilize the home temperature during summer.
Treating and Transporting water needs a lot of energy and carbon emission. You can reduce this by conserving water and making every drop count. Conserve water by installing low-flow toilets and showerheads, and fixing leaks and drips.
Turn the tape off while shaving or brushing teeth. In case you reside in areas with frequent rain, install a rain water storage tank. This water can later be used for various purposes like washing clothes or watering plants.
Improve Mental and Physical Health
A fit and healthy body is more resistant to the impacts of weather change like heat stress. A healthy mind is less vulnerable to depression and anxiety. It’s very important to maintain a strong mind and body. Given below are a few ways that you can adapt to keep yourself healthy;
· Maintain a body weight that is appropriate to your build and height.
· Don't take too much of processed food, sugar, fat and salt in your diet.
· Don't smoke, and control your alcohol consumption. Most importantly, don't do drugs.
· Do a lot of exercise. Even if you have a busy schedule, exercise at least half an hour every day.
· Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration due to heat.
· Try keeping your mind active, and always be positive. Get plenty of sleep; at least 7 to 8 hours a day.
Trees play a vital role in the environment. They have the ability to purify polluted air, and hence reducing the impacts of climate change. Grow as many trees as you can in your surroundings, as they will not only provide shade, but also soak carbon dioxide and release clean oxygen. In case you are cutting down an old tree, plant another two saplings to replace it.
For gardening, choose only those plants that suits well in your climate and require least attention and water.
To reduce the health impacts of climate change, the most important thing that you can do is to maintain a proper hygiene. It’s not only necessary to keep your body clean, but you must also maintain your surroundings.
· Always wash your hands or use sanitizer before eating.
· Consume only purified or filtered water.
· Areas with heavy vegetation and still water can be good breeding grounds to mosquitoes, so make sure to clean such area.
· Kill all the weeds or plants that release harmful pollens.
In case of extreme weather events, it's always recommended to be preparing for the worst. Earlier these were unpredictable, but now with the modern technology, weather events can already be predicted days before. If you already live in storm or flood prone areas, you must be all set to face the consequences. Here are some measures that you can take;
· Set an evacuation route for emergency.
· Keep all things ready, such as first aid box, a handy radio, a flash light.
· During floods, you might be stuck inside your home for days, so make sure that your grocery stock is full.
· Don't step out of home during the event or immediately after until you are sure about the safety.
Everyone can contribute in reducing the impacts of climate change, so people must educate each other if they have learned something new. If everyone will take even a small step towards making our earth a better place, then it can bring a big difference.
You must talk to your children and teach them to be more sensitive towards the environment, as children are the future. You can also join or form some communities and work together to literate and spread awareness among the uneducated.
Due to climate change, thousands of people die pre-mature deaths every year. Diseases and illness are spreading day-by-day. If things continue this way, a day might come when not a single person will be disease-free. It’s of no use getting fearful about climate change as it was only created by human activities. Many impacts of climate change are in fact irreversible, but we can at least try to reduce them by adapting a healthier way of living in order to save our environment.