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How Environmental Changes Affect Human Health



For many years now, we’ve been hearing that climate change is an increasing problem, but why is that? What is climate change, how is the environment being affected, and how does it affect us? This article will go over each of these questions and will give you some insight into this pressing environmental issue.


So- climate change. What is it? It’s important to note that climate change is not equal to global warming. These terms don’t mean the same thing. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “Climate change is a long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth’s local, regional and global climates,” whereas “global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s surface observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere” [1]. So, global warming is an aspect of climate change, but these two phenomena are not the same. Climate change is natural and will happen over time no matter what, however, global warming has become more of an unnatural issue because of how human activities have increased greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Now, a lot of us have learned or will learn about greenhouse gasses at some point in our education, but let’s go over a summary. “The main greenhouse gases whose concentrations are rising are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and ozone in the lower atmosphere” [2]. Why does this matter?


Well, “too much of these greenhouse gases can cause Earth's atmosphere to trap more and more heat. This causes Earth to warm up [more than it would naturally” [3]. Now, I keep reiterating the fact that the earth is warming, but let’s get some numbers in here to show how much the earth is warming. “Between 1880—the year that accurate recordkeeping began—and 1980, it rose on average by 0.07 degrees Celsius (0.13 degrees Fahrenheit) every 10 years. Since 1981, however, the rate of increase has more than doubled: For the last 40 years, we’ve seen the global annual temperature rise by 0.18 degrees Celsius, or 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit, per decade” [4]. Simply put, we’ve been messing up the natural warming of earth since the Industrial Revolution, especially within the last four decades. If it wasn’t bad already “nine of the 10 warmest years since 1880 have occurred since 2005—and the 5 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2015” [4]. Suffice to say, we haven’t been doing so well lately.


“What are some effects of global warming on climate change,” you ask. Great question! First of all, global warming can explain why we’ve been having more extreme weather. “Higher temperatures are worsening many types of disasters, including storms, heat waves, floods, and droughts. A warmer climate creates an atmosphere that can collect, retain, and unleash more water, changing weather patterns in such a way that wet areas become wetter and dry areas drier” [5]. As a Southern California native, I can remember being a child listening to my parents and grandparents talk about how bad the drought season was at different periods. I remember my grandma, who lives in Central California, talking about how hard it was for farms to yield successful crops. Even now, with the recent storms in California, we’re hearing about how great this finally is for us, yet there are still places experiencing drought. From the West Coast to the Midwest of the United States, many areas are suffering from different levels of drought, ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought” [6]. Another example of extreme weather is the hurricanes and flooding caused by them in places like Florida. Most recently and notably, in the fall of 2022, Hurricane Fiona, which first made landfall in Punta Tocon, Puerto Rico, Hurricane Ian, which made landfall in Cayo Costa, Florida, and Hurricane Nicole, which made landfall in Vero Beach, Florida all had disastrous effects, such as infrastructure damage and flooding. Rising sea levels and more acidic oceans are also consequences of global warming, and they both negatively affect our flora and fauna [5]. Rising sea levels won’t only affect ecosystems, though; coastal cities will also be affected by the dangers of flooding, which we will go over later.


So, how exactly is global warming affecting human health? One example would be the extreme heat caused by global warming. “In the United States, hundreds of heat-related deaths occur each year due to direct impacts and the indirect effects of heat-exacerbated, life-threatening illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and kidney diseases” [5]. Again, I’ve personally experienced heat exhaustion, as I’ve had to work outside during up to 110-degree weather, and it’s a horrible feeling of dizziness, feeling sick, and possibly fainting if you don’t act quick enough when symptoms first appear. I count myself lucky that my experiences with heat exhaustion have never been too serious because “extreme heat kills more Americans each year, on average than hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and lightning combined” [5]. Many people in the U.S. and across the globe go without a reliable water source, air conditioning, and shelter to protect them from the effects of extreme heat. Also, think about our farm workers who work hours on end in extreme heat; they plant and harvest our food supply, which is also affected by drought caused by extreme heat and little rainfall.


Along with this, “rising temperatures also worsen air pollution by increasing ground-level ozone smog, which is created when pollution from cars, factories, and other sources react to sunlight and heat” [5]. This puts the health of those with asthma, cardiac disease, and pulmonary disease at risk. Not only that but “warmer temperatures also significantly increase airborne pollen, which is bad news for those who suffer from hay fever and other allergies” [5]. Another way global warming affects human health is through rising ocean temperatures. “As ocean temperatures rise, hurricanes are getting stronger and wetter, which can cause direct and indirect deaths” [7]. Of course, hurricanes are dangerous and destructive in and of themselves, but they also cause flooding, which has a huge impact on human health. “Higher incidences of flooding can lead to the spread of waterborne diseases, injuries, and chemical hazards. As geographic ranges of mosquitoes and ticks expand, they can carry diseases to new locations” [7]. On top of all this, extreme heat, flooding, and extreme rainfall “can damage or destroy agriculture and fisheries” [4]. This directly affects our food supply, including crops and livestock.


We’ve gone over a lot of issues caused by global warming and how it negatively impacts human health, but is there anything we can do to help correct the problem? There are some things we can do as individuals, such as reducing carpooling to reduce carbon emissions, using energy-efficient appliances, and, for those who can afford it, maybe even opting for hybrid or electric vehicles. However, to make change happen quickly, we must put pressure on our governments to create policies that push us in the direction “to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and transition to clean energy sources” [4]. If we want to avoid more consequences of global warming, we need to hold our governments accountable and fight for policy change for the livelihood of ourselves, wildlife, and the planet.



References:

1. NASA. (2023, February 7). Overview: Weather, Global Warming and Climate Change. NASA. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://climate.nasa.gov/global-warming-vs-climate-change/



3. NASA. (2023, March 7). What is the Greenhouse Effect? NASA. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://climatekids.nasa.gov/greenhouse-effect/


4. Turrentine, J., & MacMillan, A. (2021, April 7). Global Warming 101. Definition, Facts, Causes, and Effects of Global Warming. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/global-warming-101?gclid=Cj0KCQjwlPWgBhDHARIsAH2xdNecLfEQYa8Y_rjWJj6Zd2dg8-14upe_k6CDWFIlTS5u0bXKf0iGNJIaAjqGEALw_wcB#warming


5. Denchak, M. (2022, May 23). Are the Effects of Global Warming Really that Bad? Consequences and Effects of Global Warming -- What is the Impact? Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://www.nrdc.org/stories/are-effects-global-warming-really-bad


6. California. Drought.gov. (2023, March 21). Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://www.drought.gov/states/california


7. Climate Change Impacts. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2021, August 13). Retrieved March 25, 2023, from https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/climate/climate-change-impacts


 

Contributors:

Author: Lauryn Agron

Editor: Chadwick Huynh

Health scientist: Chantelle Moore



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