For many people, global climate change seems to be an abstract issue, mainly affecting remote places in the distant future. That viewpoint could not be more wrong. Global climate change will have a major impact on almost everyone’s health in a few decades, and we may already be seeing some of its effects. Here are some of the more frightening or significant dangers to your health due to global climate change.
1. Hot Temperatures Increase Pollution
According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heat waves create areas of stagnant air that trap pollution, especially ozone, a pollutant that is harmful to everyone’s lungs, but it’s especially dangerous for children, older adults and outdoor workers.
2. Wildfires Hurt Your Heart and Lungs
Hot, dry weather increases the chance of wildfires. Smoke from wildfires can irritate or damage your eyes, heart and lungs and is especially dangerous for those with existing heart or respiratory issues, children and senior citizens according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
3. Power Outages Disrupt Medical Services
Heat waves associated with global climate change increase the possibility of blackouts as power companies cope with a “perfect storm” of hot daytime temperatures peaking and increasing use of air conditioners during the hours that typically have the highest power demands. Although solar panels, which produce most of their power on sunny days, may help smooth out these power demand spikes, for many areas, global warming may contribute to blackouts and brownouts, which affect the ability to deliver medical services. Transportation networks are also affected, meaning that if you do get ill, it may be difficult to access medical care during a blackout.
4. Dangers of Hot Weather
Hot weather can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke and contribute to dehydration. People who do not have air conditioning, outdoor workers, athletes, young children, people with certain medical conditions or taking specific medications, the obese, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.
5. Infectious Diseases Move North
Many diseases are geographically limited because the insects that spread them have habitats limited by climate. With global climate change, the range of many insects is expanding. The ticks that bear Lyme disease, for example, are spreading throughout most of the eastern United States. Mosquito populations are also increasing and spreading, leading, according to the Scientific American, to malaria, dengue fever and West Nile virus gradually moving into the United States. It’s also likely that Chikungunya and Rift Valley fever will arrive within the next few decades, as well.
6. Drinking Water Safety
Global climate change increases the risk of floods. This leads to the situation described by Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” of there being “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” During floods, drains and sewers overflow, often contaminating drinking water. Flood waters can even carry dangerous industrial waste into municipal water supplies. Low water levels and droughts can also affect the quality and quantity of water available to individual consumers as well as farmers.
7. Crop Failures and Food Supply
Climate change affects our food supply. Many crops grow only in certain conditions, requiring a fixed temperature range and amount of water. Changing climate conditions reduces crop yields. Although climate change means that new areas may be opened up for production of certain crops as older ones fail, these new areas may not have the right soil conditions for crop production. Also, warmer climates invite new pests and plant diseases. Decreasing crop yields will increase prices, making good nutrition harder to afford. Even worse, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Elevated CO2 has been associated with reduced protein and nitrogen content in alfalfa and soybean plants.” This means that animals will have to consume more of these plants to gain muscle mass and therefore meat.