Climate change is a health issue, mostly

Climate change is a complicated problem. Maybe that’s why even in 2017 we can’t seem to agree on how much it will affect each one of us. Most people do understand that climate change will hurt people, but nobody wants to think that they’ll be the one hurting. But who can blame them? The New York Times notes that people are pretty bad at risk assessment, especially when it comes to a problem as huge and complex as climate change. It’s more comfortable to think that people on the other side of the country are more likely to take the heaviest hits as climate change progresses. But bad risk assessment means bad risk control, so let’s break down this big, complex problem into a few issues that just about everyone will run into.

More bugs means more disease, fewer trees

The most immediate problem with unchecked climate change is likely to be bugs. It just so happens that everyone’s favorite flying parasite, the mosquito, absolutely thrives in places where climate change means longer, damper summers. Same with ticks. And if the image of swarms of mosquitoes isn’t already horrifying enough, consider this: Mosquitoes can spread West Nile Virus, and ticks can spread Lyme Disease, neither of which currently have a vaccine. West Nile has already shown itself a bit more than usual here in the U.S. lately, so beware of climate-powered supermosquitoes.

Mosquitoes aren’t the only ones that will swarm. While you’re running from that big guy up there, his friends may be busy destroying forests. In places where climate change brings drought, trees become far more susceptible to infestation. This creates something of a feedback loop where warming contributes to the death of trees, which in turn reduces the amount of CO2 being taken from the atmosphere by plant life. This is in addition to deforestation by humans, which is excessive even without that extra help.

Allergies will get worse for everyone

Climate change doesn’t just mean more bugs, though. It also means more allergens in the air. Ragweed, one of the most universally sneeze-inducing plants around, is spreading faster the warmer it gets. Leonard Bielory the allergy specialist explains that this increase in pollen also seems to be setting off reactions in people who usually aren’t allergic, meaning it’s only a matter of time before Ragweed becomes the dominant species on the planet.

And that’s just garden-variety allergies. People with asthma are going to have an even worse time with this, as allergens in the air combine with emissions from vehicles to make anyone with a less than perfect respiratory system miserable. All of this means that each allergy season will see more widespread and intense allergic reactions than the last, and will last longer. Forget the days when each spring just makes you get a little sniffly. The new normal will probably be closer to everyone and their mother coughing and sneezing nonstop for the whole season.

Even our food supply is taking a hit

Seems like climate change is set on turning standard inconveniences into more powerful inconveniences so far, right? This last one is harder to ignore, because it affects food. It turns out that the increased CO2 levels that are causing this climate change to begin with are also sabotaging our crops. Staple crops like rice and wheat actually grow less efficiently when there’s a high level of CO2 in the atmosphere, lowering their yield and making them less nutritious. Before we had to worry about this, there were already about two billion people not getting enough nutrients in their diet. Now that our crops are rebelling, even more may face malnutrition. And even here in the U.S., if less nutritious food just becomes an accepted reality going forward, it will mean a decline in overall health for just about everyone. And that could make the first two problems even worse, since poor health makes it harder to control allergic reactions and fight disease.

Why this perspective matters

It’s important to understand that climate change has a wide and complicated variety of effects that isn’t the same everywhere on the planet. But keeping only that zoomed-out view can prevent us from seeing some of the real effects climate change is already having on real people. We have to know the finer points of what we’re up against, understand what’s at stake for each of us personally, in order to get a better idea of what unchecked climate change could mean for the world at large. Besides, isn’t it easier to stay motivated when you’re not worried for like, the planet, man, but for the inevitable swarms of hungry bugs, waves of hyperactive pollen, or shipments of crappy food?

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