Along with other natural and man-made health stresses, climate change has a variety of effects on human health and disease. New health threats will appear, and some current health threats will become more serious. Not everyone faces the same danger. Age, financial resources, and location are significant factors.
Climate change is a long-term shift in the world's weather systems. The majority of the recent changes in our climate have been caused by human activities. Without action, climate change will have far-reaching and devastating effects for our state, country, and the rest of the globe. It is a critical issue having global, national, community, and personal repercussions.
Climate change is already having an influence on health in a variety of ways, including the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, storms, and floods, the disruption of food systems, increases in zoonoses and food-, water-, and vector-borne illnesses, and mental health difficulties. Furthermore, climate change is affecting many of the social determinants of health, including employment, equality, access to health care, and social support networks. Women, children, ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants or displaced individuals, elderly populations, and those with underlying health issues are disproportionately affected by these climate-sensitive health concerns.
Who are most vulnerable to the health consequences of climate change?
Children are at risk for a variety of reasons. Children, for example, are more vulnerable to heat stress and dehydration, as well as to air pollution and smoke from wildfires. Because their immune systems are not completely formed, they are more vulnerable to infections. They frequently rely on adults to keep them safe during emergencies and to assist them in recovering afterwards.
2. Pregnant women
Due to the physiological demands of pregnancy, pregnant women are more vulnerable to heat stress during heatwaves. They and their unborn children are especially vulnerable to air pollution and smoke from wildfires.
3. Older adults
The Lancet Countdown to 2020 study on health and climate change highlighted older adults as a vulnerable demographic facing increased morbidity and death as a result of extreme weather, such as dangerous heatwaves, extensive wildfires, and powerful storms.
4. People living in the rural areas and with low incomes
People with low incomes and other vulnerable populations are also more affected, owing to disparities in underlying health outcomes and restricted access to healthcare and other services. Extreme occurrences such as bushfires, droughts, hurricanes, and sea level increases also threaten those living in rural or isolated areas or near the shore.
Warming temperatures, variations in precipitation, increases in the frequency or severity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea levels are all effects of climate change. These consequences endanger our health by influencing the food we consume, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the weather we encounter.
The severity of these potential dangers will be determined by the ability of public health and safety systems to handle or prepare for these evolving dangers, as well as individual characteristics such as behavior, age, gender, and economic position. The effects will vary depending on where a person lives, how vulnerable they are to health concerns, how much they are exposed to the effects of climate change, and how effectively they and their community can adapt to change.
What are the impacts of climate change?
We've seen in recent years that increasing temperatures and extreme weather events may have a big impact on people's health all across the world.
1. Temperature-related impacts
Hotter days and more frequent and longer heat waves will result from higher average temperatures. These changes will result in a rise in heat-related mortality in the United States, perhaps reaching thousands to tens of thousands more deaths each year by the end of the century during the summer months.
Extreme heat can cause heat stroke, dehydration, and cardiovascular, pulmonary, and cerebrovascular illness. Extreme heat is more likely to damage communities in northern latitudes, because people are less prepared to deal with extreme heat. Certain demographics are more sensitive than others; for example, outdoor laborers, student athletes, and the homeless are more vulnerable to high heat since they spend more time outside. Low-income households and the elderly may lack access to air conditioning, increasing their exposure to intense heat. Furthermore, small children, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and those with certain medical disorders have a lower ability to control their body temperature and are thus more susceptible to excessive heat.
2. Air quality impacts
Climate change has an impact on the air we breathe both indoors and outside. Hotter temperatures and fluctuating weather patterns may wreak havoc on air quality, leading to asthma attacks and other respiratory and cardiovascular health issues. Wildfires produce smoke and other harmful air pollutants, which are predicted to grow in quantity and intensity as the climate changes. Rising CO2 levels and higher temperatures also have an impact on airborne allergens like ragweed pollen.
3. Water-related problems
People can become unwell if they come into contact with polluted drinking or recreational water. Climate change raises the risk of sickness via increased warmth, increasing frequency of heavy rains and runoff, and the effects of storms. Effects on the body's neurological and respiratory systems, as well as liver and kidney damage, can all have a negative influence on health.
Many public health precautions are provided by water resource, public health, and environmental authorities in the United States to limit the danger of exposure and sickness even if water becomes polluted. Water quality monitoring, drinking water treatment standards and methods, beach closures, and issuing cautions for boiling drinking water and shellfish harvesting are all examples.
Whereas the effects of climate change have the potential to harm human health in the United States and around the world, there is much we can do to prepare for and respond to these changes, such as having established early warning systems for extreme heat and other catastrophic weather, reducing vulnerabilities among vulnerable populations, raising awareness among healthcare professionals, and ensuring that infrastructure is built to accommodate anticipated future change. Recognizing the challenges that climate change poses to human health is the first step in collaborating to reduce risks and prepare for them.