Protecting Your Health from the Effects of Climate Change

Ross Quade | Health | 21 Jul, 2015 | No Comments

Our world’s climate has been changing since before humans were even a species.  Climate change is how the average day-to-day weather changes in a particular area over time.  Even though today’s climate change is heavily accelerated due to human causes we still have to face the effects of it.  Through our evolution, climate has played a definitive role in how human populations grew and collapsed and where they moved.  Everything from obtaining water to growing food to finding suitable navigational routes along with impacts of disease, have their roots in climate.  There are endless examples of this whether it is early tribes in the American Southwest, the inhabitants of Easter Island in the South Pacific, or the first settlers to the Fertile Crescent in Ancient Mesopotamia.

It’s harder to see in the present moment, but we as humans are following similar routes of these ancient peoples. The difference today is that we are an incredibly advanced society as a whole and have the tools and resources to mold and shape how we want those impacts to change our lives.  The root in that though, is being prepared for what may come and not playing “catch-up” after these impacts from climate change hit us.  The impacts that are going to affect us the most early on are those to our health.  We are a versatile but also delicate species and are very susceptible to the effects of climate change so being prepared for these effects will not only help you but also society as a whole.

Direct Effects

The effects of rapid climate change are already being felt today most notably in the form of extreme weather events.  These types of events have direct impacts on human health in that the weather itself can cause negative effects.  Conditions such as extreme heat, torrential rain, flooding, and storms can all be easy for some to deal with and live through but depending upon the degree they can be catastrophic to others.  The best way to deal with these events is to be prepared and have a plan for the scenarios that are most likely to hit you.

Air Quality

Air quality already impacts a large percentage of people whether in central China or a state of the art Western city.   Ground level ozone emissions, a large component of smog, can increase substantially, as well as particulate matter from wildfires and continued industrial activity.  The first step is being aware of air quality around you. Chances are you can’t do anything about it directly, but if you look at local weather reports and news outlets that advise on current air quality and what to do to prevent exposure, you can stay safe.  A simple, well-used solution is to stay indoors during periods of poor air quality.

Heat Waves

Heat waves can be uncomfortable to many but can have deathly consequences on certain populations, particularly the elderly.  Preparing for unbearable heat starts with assessing how your own body will react if it is overheated.  Do you have an existing condition such as cardiovascular disease or risk of stroke?  Are you older and would you have a hard time getting somewhere cooler if it was uncomfortably hot?  You need to have a plan of what you are going to do, who you are going to ask for help, and where you may go.  Don’t wait until it is hot or even forecasted to be hot.  Make a plan now and make sure all the necessary steps are in place should a heat wave occur.

Extreme Weather

Another direct impact on health is other extreme weather events such as storms that can cause flooding, wind damage, and any other weather related impact.  Wherever you are in the world you are largely at the mercy of the storm and whether or not you will be in the worst of it.  The only thing you can do is to be prepared and be in the right place at the right time.  You never know when the power is going to go out or the water shut off.  You should have enough drinkable water and food stored to last at least one week.  You need to have this ready before a storm is even imminent because everyone else is going to be racing around trying to get those things, creating more issues.  Depending upon the storm, moving you and your family to a safer location may be the route to go.  Have a plan and a number of options of where that place would be and what you would bring with you.

Indirect Effects

As humans, we are affected by an unprecedented amount of indirect components every day.  These components include things like how the winters aren’t cold enough to kill tick populations or how hotter and dryer conditions affect the amount and quality of food grown.  The degree to which these components are and will affect us is changing and will create health issues for every one of us.  Preparing for them and knowing what to do will help overcome these negative effects.

Infectious Disease

Infectious disease has the potential to have the greatest climate change impact in that the degree and magnitude in which it can occur is enormous.  Waterborne disease is from pathogenic microorganisms that can be found in fresh water and can cause infection from bathing, washing drinking, and food preparing.  Vector borne disease is caused by pathogens that are spread by humans, animals, or microorganisms to other humans, animals, or microorganisms.  These diseases can be exacerbated in a large number of ways.  The best way to minimize your potential health risks against any of these is to limit your exposure to things that can carry disease such as insects, animals, and other humans as well as possible contaminated water sources.  If you are in contact with any of these sources that may be infected, make sure you minimize your exposure by washing and bathing with soap and water as well as ensure things like ticks are not on your body.

Food Impacts

Food is also another area that is going to be hit hard by climate change due to how closely correlated quantity and qualities are to what the weather is at any given time.  Some places will receive less rain, and some will receive more. Not only will food become more expensive but also nutrient dense foods will become harder to get.  This will lead to malnutrition in some populations.  Since you are reading this, you will probably be able to continue providing yourself with the nutrients your body needs despite food scarcity.  However, many on the other end of the spectrum will have a difficult time obtaining not only enough food but also food with the right nutrients.  This is already a huge problem and will only continue to worsen.  Doing things such as making sure you are not wasting any food and supporting charities that can help those in need will at least be a step in the right direction.

Another impact that will affect health is the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used on food to try and keep up with the demand.  The weather will be less suitable for many crops; in order to get the same yield out of them, using higher and higher amounts of fertilizer and pesticides will be necessary.  This can have negative health consequences in two ways: one is that people are consuming higher amounts of chemicals that they already should not be consuming and the second is that run-off from fields will more heavily contaminate water sources.  Eating fewer foods that are grown with heavy fertilizer and pesticide use will help to lower demand for these products forcing famers to grow them in beneficial ways for both humans and the environment.

Climate change is, and is going to have large impacts on health in populations around the world.  These potential risks talked about above are only a fraction of what will affect human health worldwide.  Some areas of the world will not have some of the affects while other areas will be devastated.  Being prepared for the changes that may affect your part of the world is the best way to minimize what impacts not only to you but the society around you.  Climate change is happening and it will have negative effects.  We have the technology and resources to be able to deal with them in the best ways possible.  It starts with you, the individual, being prepared in your own way, not having to rely on others to take care of you should events such as extreme weather or a disease outbreak occur.

 




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