How Does Climate Change Affect Human Health?

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Did you know that being surrounded by healthy green space is just as essential to human health as eating well, exercising, and getting enough rest? Studies have proven that spending time in nature has enormous benefits to both our physical and mental health. It lowers heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure while regulating stress hormones in our bodies. A simple walk in the woods can help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression while improving cognition in children with attention deficit disorders. But climate change and pollution is wreaking havoc on our green spaces, which begs the question: is environmental degradation affecting nature’s healing abilities? Furthermore, how is climate change affecting us and our health?

The Air We Breathe

One of the greatest impacts that climate change is having on human health is through the very air we are breathing. Warmer temperatures and changing weather patterns brought on by climate change have excessively increased levels of ground-level ozone, a harmful pollutant and smog-component. Especially on hot sunny days in busy cities, ground-level ozone inflames the airways, exacerbates asthma and other breathing conditions, and directly damages lung tissue. In addition to smog, rising temperatures have increased the number and severity of wildfires across the globe, filling our atmosphere with more particulate matter — tiny particles of smoke, liquid, and dust that when inhaled, increase the risk of lung cancer and other cardiovascular diseases. Lastly, climate change has caused the spring pollen season for many plants to come earlier and last longer, harming people with asthma and chronic allergies.

Extreme Weather Events

Studies have proven that climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and extreme precipitation. For instance, rising temperatures are causing more droughts and rising sea levels are causing more coastal storms. Not only do extreme weather events directly end lives by destroying homes, buildings and bridges, but they also indirectly harm humans in countless ways: runoff from flooding contaminates sources of drinking water, damaged roads and waterways makes food distribution a struggle, power outages interrupt healthcare and communications services, and even stomach and intestinal illness are triggered by severe storms.

Diseases

Mosquitoes, fleas, birds, and ticks are all disease vectors — carriers of infectious viruses and bacteria and transmitters of vector borne diseases such as malaria, Lyme disease, and dengue fever. Disease vectors can only spread these illnesses in certain conditions, geographic areas, and times of the year. With the extreme weather events and temperature and precipitation changes brought on by climate change, vector borne diseases are being spread earlier in the season and the area of the globe in which they are active is growing and expanding northward. Although modern research and healthcare has enabled us to prevent and manage the spread of these diseases, many developing countries do not have access to these resources and are losing millions of lives to vector borne disease each year.

In conclusion, climate change is harming our bodies just as much as it is harming the planet. If we want health for us and for future generations, we must take climate change seriously and work to slow down its impacts. The time to act is now.

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