Written by Samiha Ali
When we hear about climate change, the impacts that first come to mind typically revolve around animals, agriculture, or the environment. The tie between climate change and public health, however, is not as frequently thought of. Given the escalating rate of climate change, it is important to acknowledge that this link between our changing climate and health not only exists, but is also increasing at an alarming pace. Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause up to 250,000 additional deaths per year globally from health-related issues like malnutrition, heat stress, and diarrhea . Even further, climate change is predicted to shift the transmission patterns of infectious diseases like malaria, which can increase human susceptibility to infection .
Even scaling the issue down to just the national sphere, the effects of global warming to our health and our atmosphere are evident. Climate change is worsening air pollution in the United States, leading to the atmospheric accumulation of fine particulate matter that can irritate lungs and ultimately contribute to asthma, lung disease, and other respiratory issues . In states like California where climate change exacerbates wildfires, the resulting release of particulate matter can affect both respiratory and cardiovascular health. The rise of CO2 levels also fosters plant growth that releases airborne allergens and elongates pollen seasons, contributing to more intense allergic illnesses . Extreme natural disasters like hurricanes may also escalate in the wake of climate change and have a negative public health impact.
Unlike the United States, countries around the world, especially developing countries, lack the resources to face the escalating threats of climate change against our health. As previously stated, climate change affects the transmission of infectious diseases. This relationship is especially worrisome in countries like Ecuador, whose recent emerging epidemic of Zika virus is exacerbated by natural disaster events caused by climate change . Also, an analysis of the 2016 earthquake that struck the country revealed that the subsequent breakdown of social conditions multiplied the vulnerabilities against infection. Ecuador is just one example of many where the susceptibility to infectious disease is increasing due to the effects of climate change. Beyond affecting specific countries, climate change and rising temperatures are escalating and threatening the world globally as well. Multiple assessments have shown that when glaciers melt, infectious virus and bacterial strains that were previously trapped in ice are revived and released into the environment . The release of such strains can wreak havoc on unequipped communities.
Additionally, the connection between climate change and health proves to be influential even in indirect ways. By depleting food and water sources, the extreme weather events associated with climate change can increase food insecurity and ultimately exacerbate pre-existing health conditions. Without a stable source of food, people lack the resources to even keep up with their day-to-day well-being. Overall, the link between climate change and consequences in the health sphere is alarming and emphasizes the need to mitigate human impact on the environment. We must make individual changes like relying more on green transportation as well as large-scale changes like investing in renewable energy in order to slow down climate change. If not for the health of our planet, then we must at least take action for the health of us all.