“This whole sustainability crisis, in a way, all these problems, the climate crisis, loss of biodiversity, air pollution… these are all linked and we need to change our mindset when it comes to that. It is unacceptable because these are human lives and it’s affecting our health. These are not just numbers, we need to see them as people.” (1) These words from climate activist Greta Thunberg at the UN Climate Action Summit held in New York this year sum up the ways in which climate change impacts the health of people, not just our planet.
Nitesh was used to going for an early morning jog before he sat down for his yoga session. Last winter, he had to abandon it in the middle after he developed a persistent cough. This was followed with a difficulty to breathe as he lay down to sleep at night. He started feeling a pain in the chest soon and that’s when he saw a doctor. After examining him, the doctor said that he might be suffering from an acute respiratory infection.
Climate change poses a catastrophic risk to human health. Extreme weather events over the next century, such as floods, droughts and overheating could erase 50 years of global health gains in one go. Here are a few health effects of climate change that you need to brace for:
1. Increase in vector borne diseases: The last decade has seen an increase in incidences of dengue, chikungunya and Japanese encephalitis in India. All these are transmitted by mosquitoes or ticks. Rise in temperature due to change in climate promotes the breeding of these organisms. It also allows for faster replication of viruses within these organisms and prolongs the life of the virus. This is thought to be responsible for Zika virus outbreak in the US.
2. Water and food borne diseases: Unnatural rainfall and untimely floods can lead to the spread of bacterial infections either through contaminated water or food. This is one of the deadlier health effects of climate change. Mixing of storm water and sewage during flooding and spread of fecal bacteria in crop fields during heavy rains could lead to the development of water and food borne diseases in people who consume them. Some of these include cholera, diarrhea, leptospirosis, cryptosporidiosis etc.
3. Rise in Type 2 diabetes: A study in the prestigious journal BMJ Open Diabetes and Care indicated that glucose intolerance was related to an increase in temperature. The risk of having diabetes increased 0.17 percent per degree Celsius of warming. One of the ways climate change is by making you susceptible to diabetes. A decrease in the activity of brown fat tissue which burns fat and helps generate heat during cold climate is thought to be responsible for insulin resistance.
4. Respiratory diseases: Global warming leads to air pollution that increases particulate matter in the air and greenhouse gases like carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. Inhaling air such as this could lead to respiratory problems such as asthma, decreased lung function and cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attack. Increase in atmospheric carbon monoxide also leads to pollen production by plants that can aggravate allergies in people.
5. Food security: One of the important health effects of climate change is going to be food production, including pricing and distribution systems. A decline in crop production due to global warming will lead to an increase in food prices and can lead to food insecurity. Food shortage can also lead to a nutrient poor but calorie rich diet or starvation. The former could lead to obesity while the latter can result in malnutrition.
6. Mental health: Natural calamities such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires due to climate change can lead to increasing levels of anxiety among people. More people can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. Depression and other mental illnesses are found to be higher among those exposed to hot weather. Extreme weather events can be detrimental to the mind and can trigger mental health problems even in those with no such earlier history.
These are several ways in which climate change impacts health and can create havoc. Therefore it is important to be proactive and take steps to avert this. As a responsibility to your planet start by planting more trees, using public transport, reducing the use of plastics and using energy judiciously.
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