7 Ways Climate Change Could Make You Sick If It Doesn’t Kill You First

Climate change consequences are already here
Feature photo adapted from Wikipedia

The White House released a report on Monday that reveals the impact climate change will have on human health. Those who act to derail government action would do well to picture future generations dealing with the consequences laid out in the report.

Here’s what climate change deniers are bestowing on their children and grandchildren:

1. Extreme heat. In the summer of 2030, based on data from 200 American cities, an additional 11,000 people will die of heat-related illnesses than did so in 1990. By the summer of 2100, the number will have risen to an additional 27,000 premature deaths. Illnesses from extreme heat include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia. The probability of being hospitalized for already existing conditions — such as cardiovascular, kidney, and respiratory diseases — will rise as heat causes them to worsen.

2. Air pollution.  Increases in ozone pollution, air particulates from more wildfires, changing rainfall patterns, and the proliferation of allergens — from both longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures — will all make it harder to breathe. The changes to the quality of outdoor air will inevitably lower the quality of indoor air. Hundreds to thousands more illnesses and premature deaths will occur in 2030 from the stress on both cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The ragweed pollen season alone increased by 11 to 27 days from 1995 to 2011.

3. Extreme weather events. Droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, flooding are all on the rise. In addition to the possibility of traumatic death from these events, people in their path face the loss of resources that could help them recover from devastating losses. The decimation of services that include power, clean water, transportation to medical facilities, emergency services, and communications are bound to result in more deaths, more illnesses, and a toll on the mental health of victims.

4. Infections from insects, viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. Insects like mosquitos and ticks spread disease among humans with their bite. With warmer weather, there will be more insects because their breeding season will be longer and they will be able to move further northward into areas that used to be too cold for them to exist. For example, tick-borne Lyme disease expanded its reach over the Northeast and Upper Midwest between 2001 to 2014, with a simultaneous increase in reported cases of the disease.

5. Water-related illnesses. These illnesses are caused not only by organisms — like bacteria, viruses, algae, and protozoa — that proliferate in warmer temperatures, but also by a slew of toxic chemicals. Extreme precipitation sends a massive poisonous brew of these chemicals into our waterways and drinking supplies through the runoff that results, whether from farming, mining, or manufacturing. The water we play in, bathe in, drink, and get our shellfish from are all affected in the extreme. Our aging infrastructure will be increasingly overwhelmed by the need to remove contaminants from drinking supplies.

6. Food availability and contamination. Of course, if the waterways are more and more contaminated by pathogens, the food supply will be as well. In addition, it will be harder to guarantee a stable food supply in the face of drought, heat, and precipitation extremes. Plus, higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air can cause a decrease in the nutrients contained in basic foods, such as wheat, rice, and potatoes — with a resultant impact on human health. Add on the effects of increased spoilage from higher temperatures and disruptions to the distribution system from extreme weather events and food shortages are no longer just a third world problem.

7. Stress. Depressed yet? If not, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts could loom in the future. For some, these will become chronic conditions as lifestyles change and everyday coping becomes more difficult. Certain portions of the population are more vulnerable to deteriorating mental health than others: children, the elderly, pregnant women, the already mentally ill, the poor, the homeless.

If that’s too grim a future to contemplate, we better get busy. The future is now. We can let climate change get worse or we can put all our will behind changing course. There’s no one else riding to our rescue.

Feature photo, adapted from work in English Wikipedia, released to the common domain, and work by Daniel Case, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

About Deborah Montesano 72 Articles
Deborah Montesano is a political writer and activist, living the liberal dream in Portland, Oregon. It's well deserved after freeing herself from a long, hard slog in ultra-conservative Arizona. The harsh desert honed her far-left sensibilities, but she is now wearing off the brittle edges by lounging along the Columbia River and gorging herself at food trucks. Above all: “I am, and always have been a progressive woman.” (Belva Lockwood)

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