Why Climate Change Is A Public Health Issue

As the Earth warms, there will be short-term winners, long-term losers, and plenty of economic complications. But what often goes unnoticed is the impact global warming has on public health, both presently and in the future.

Examining climate change through the lens of public health brings realization to the very personal impact a changing climate is affecting already. As it is, people tend to be much less apt to ignore the health of their loved ones than they are numbers and abstractions.

Here’s a quick guide to the ways in which climate change has already been observed indirectly or directly impacting public health for the worse, according to doctors and professionals.

1. A majority of public health scientists report that climate change is affecting their patients, or is directly relevant to patient care.

Specifically, 7 in 10 members surveyed by the American Thoracic Society (ATS) reported climate change’s role in patient health, while the National Medical Society found that 88 percent of physicians surveyed believed climate change was directly relevant to patient care.

2. Air pollution via wildfires and rising ozone levels has exacerbated respiratory illnesses in a growing number of patients.

77 percent of ATS physicians surveyed observed increases in chronic disease severity due to air pollution, which is fueled by rising temperatures.

As an example, recent California wildfires led to higher admissions for asthma, bronchitis, and lung disease, especially among babies and the elderly.

3. Climate change is lengthening pollen seasons and strengthening pollen production, meaning heightened symptoms in those that suffer from allergies.

58 percent of ATS physicians surveyed reported an uptick due to allergic symptoms from exposure to plants and mold; ragweed production is expected to surge even more in coming years, and pollen could not only get stronger, but find new habitats and reach more people.

4. Environmental changes have been known, historically, to affect the spread of infectious diseases, and officials warn that this factor could lead to their comeback in the US.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”P6Vt5QPJlFLJQjwJ5HL7uPxh23lSLw5t”]The National Resources Defense Council says rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns could allow tropical and subtropical insects and other species that carry infectious disease to thrive in new places, potentially transmitting to human hosts. Already, 28 US states have become home to mosquitoes capable of transmitting Dengue Fever and other diseases.

That’s not to mention the link between climate change and the Ebola virus, and the opinion of zoologists that, where outbreaks are concerned, this is only the beginning.

5. Extreme weather events, which are thought to be intensified by climate change (some say they already have been, though others disagree) could lead to many more injuries and deaths.

57 percent of ATS physicians surveyed reported more severe weather injuries among patients.

But extreme weather events can do even more damage, according to the EPA: for example, the reduced availability of food and water, carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, increased stomach and intestinal illness, as well as potential mental health impacts.

Heat waves and droughts can also lead to stroke and dehydration — the most common of weather-related deaths.


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Jennifer Markert