6 Ways Climate Change is Making Us Sick

4 minute read

Just a day after the People’s Climate March, one of the largest international environmental marches, a new analysis of 56 studies on climate change-related health problems shows that increasingly, global temperatures and severe weather events will continue to have a major impact on global health.

In the U.S. alone, several cities are expected to experience many more frequent hot days by the year 2050, and New York City and Milwaukee for example, may have three times their current average of hot days that reach over 90 degrees. According to researchers from the University of Wisconsin, this is just one consequence of human-driven climate change.

Currently, 97% of scientists studying climate agree that climate change is caused by humans. The new study, which is published in JAMA, lays out what these wide ranging effects on public health are.

Here’s a breakdown of how climate change will impact human health:

Heat-related health problems
In the researchers’ findings, they report that heat-related deaths represent more fatalities than all other weather events combined, and the frequency of hot days is expected to increase across all U.S. cities. Other research, like a recent July CDC report confirmed earlier this summer that heat-related health problems in the U.S. are growing. Since outdoor workers are impacted by heat, there are also significant economic-related implications—and by 2050s, the researchers report that workdays lost due to heat could reach 15 to 18% in South East Asia, Central America and West and Central Africa.

Respiratory problems
Climate-related pollution can trigger respiratory problems, commonly due to poor air quality, as exhibited in large cities like Beijing. The researchers report that 43 million people in the U.S. alone live in places that are over the EPA’s health standards for fine particulate matter in the air, and that can come from forest fires, which are thought to increase as temperatures continue to rise and droughts are prolonged. Pollen is also thought to increase with climate change, which is terrible news for people with seasonal allergies.

Infectious diseases
In the U.S., diseases like West Nile, dengue fever, and chikungunya virus are increasing in warm and muggy states like Florida, and all three of those diseases are thought to have a connection to warmer temperatures. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that the rise of temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns have contributed to longer summers, and therefore these diseases—which are insect-borne—have longer seasons.

Waterborne diseases
Climate change is projected to continue to cause heavier rain events, and the researchers note that gastrointestinal disease among kids has been tied to heavy rain fall in both the U.S. and India. Earlier this summer, citizens in Michigan and Toledo, Ohio were banned from drinking tap water after an algae bloom, caused in part by agricultural runoff, moved to the region’s water intake area and contaminated the drinking water.

Food insecurity
According to the report, climate change is expected to lower global food production by 2% per decade, even as demand increases 14%.

Mental health problems
The researchers show that serious weather events caused by climate change like Hurricane Katrina can leave people feeling utterly hopeless, displaced, full of anxiety and even with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a corresponding editorial, Dr. Howard Bauchner, the editor-in-chief of JAMA, and Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, the journal’s executive editor, write: “Understanding and characterizing this threat and educating the medical community, public, and policy makers are crucial if the health of the world’s population is to continue to improve during the latter half of the 21st century.”

When it comes to solutions, the researchers say reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a critical step in gaining better health and more economic stability. Starting Tuesday, the UN will meet for its 2014 Climate Summit, and the hope among many is that global public health will be an issue brought to the table—and addressed on an international scale.

See the Worst Place to Breathe in America

Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
A passenger train travels through town past a refinery in Bakersfield, Calif.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Oil pumps and scarred earth can be seen for miles in an area of North Bakersfield called the Bluffs. A Cogeneration Plant sits in the middle of the fields and is one of California's top polluters.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
A dust storm blows through Bakersfield, Calif. Dust is a pervasive problem in the area.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Yareli Gonzalez, 7, suffers from asthma and receives two nebulizer treatments per day, indefinitely. Gonzalez lives in Shafter, a rural farming town in Kern County, Calif. Kern County sits at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, an area known for having the worst air in the nation due to dust, smog and high levels of ozone.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Asthma educator Sharon Borradori, left, shows Margarita Hernandez, center, and her husband, Severo Velasco, right, how their 2-year-old son, Mauricio Velasco will use an inhaler when he's older. Mauricio was recently released from the hospital after suffering from an extreme asthma attack. Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Children practice sports on a field at Bakersfield High School which backs up against the train yard that runs through the middle of town in Bakersfield.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Young football players exercise on the stadium of Bakersfield High School. Bakersfield High is the oldest high school in town and the mascot, the Driller, is directly tied to area industry.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Benjamin Swall, 14, waits for his brother's football practice to end at Bakersfield High School.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Red Simspon, a country music legend and Bakersfield native, smokes a cigarette outside of the Rasmussen Senior Center in Oildale, north of Bakersfield. Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Merced Mendoza moves irrigation pipe in a field that will be used to grow alfalfa. The field is adjacent to and owned by Kern Oil and Refining Co. Mendoza is a leader for a men's group at Victory Outreach Church in Bakersfield that rents the land from the refinery to grow alfalfa that is then sold to a local dairy for feed. The money earned from the feed helps fund the men's program for the church. This symbiotic relationship between resource companies and the community are played out throughout the region.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Percolation ponds fill up with runoff water from nearby Belridge Oil Fields in Eastern Kern County. As the water evaporates, leaving oil residue, hydrogen sulfide, methane and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are released in to the air.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Dust devils can be seen reaching toward the sky during dry months in Bakersfield. Dust is a pervasive problem that contributes to diminished air quality. The problem is exacerbated by the current drought in California.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Lucy Clark, 72, lives in the foothills north of Bakersfield. Her home sits at 2200 feet, which is about the elevation where the visible layer of smog begins to hang in the air. Because of this, Clark, who suffers from asthma, wears a mask every day she walks out to get the mail.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Elk Hills Power plant provides electricity to power Occidental Elk Hills oil field. Oxy's Elk Hills field is one of the largest oil fields in the United States and the natural gas power plant can produce 550 megawatts of electricity.Lexey Swall—GRAIN
Bakersfield California Air Pollution Climate Change
Samantha Olivarez, 9, left, and her cousin, Daisy Olivarez, 7, play in front of their home in Arvin, Calif. The homes across the street were evacuated after a gas pipe leaked underground. According to reports, the 40-year-old pipe was leaking for as long as two years before it was detected. Olivarez's family is worried about possible health risks in the area due to the pollution.Lexey Swall—GRAIN

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