Effects of Climate Change on Health: What To Do To Reverse Them?

14 August 2023

effects of climate change on healthGlobal warming and climate change pose severe threats as rising temperatures and extreme weather events significantly impact human health. Climate change can increase the severity or frequency of health problems while introducing new health issues which can have dire consequences for the human race.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that climate change may result in around 250,000 additional deaths each year from 2030 to 2050. This will be due to problems such as malaria, heat stress, diarrhea, and malnutrition.

Let’s explore all the effects of climate change on health, and how we can act now to address the crisis.

Who Is Most Impacted by Climate Change?

One’s vulnerability to climate change depends on their level of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. For these reasons, the effects of climate change on health are gravest among children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people living in developing countries and rural areas.

While these populations are at higher risk, climate change is an issue that will eventually impact every human being. Its disastrous consequences are thus a matter of global concern.

Effects of Climate Change on Health

Global warming causes changes in precipitation, increases in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and warming temperatures. These impact air, water, food, and the overall weather, which can severely affect human health.

Here is a brief rundown of climate change’s effects on health:

Higher Temperatures

The average temperatures are rising across the globe and there is an increasing number of heatwaves and wildfires. These lead to heat strokes and dehydration, among other cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory diseases — some of which are fatal.

Urban areas also lack adequate greenery to aid in temperature control or regulation. Metropolitan regions such as Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and Cincinnati have thus witnessed a notable rise in death rates during heat waves.  

Air Pollution

Changes in weather patterns and rising temperatures can cause the air quality to deteriorate. Air quality is further compromised by smog from industries and cars as well as smoke from wildfires. These can lead to all kinds of cardiovascular and respiratory issues, including asthma attacks.

An increase in airborne allergens, such as ragweed pollen due to the rising carbon dioxide levels, can cause additional respiratory issues. Warmer temperatures can also increase levels of ground-level ozone which can damage lung tissue and inflame airways.

Extreme Weather Events

Extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, storms, and excessive precipitation, pose serious threats as they:

  • Reduce the availability of drinking water and food
  • Damage infrastructure such as bridges and roads, making it difficult to access healthcare facilities
  • Interrupt utility and communication services
  • Increase intestinal and stomach illnesses, causing digestive issues and ill health
  • Cause mental health issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Contribute towards carbon monoxide poisoning 

Emergency evacuations may also pose risks to individuals with mobility issues and disabilities, or those who have communication difficulties.

Food Security and Nutrition

Climate change can drastically disrupt the distribution and production of food:

  • Bacteria-related food poisoning and salmonella may increase as bacteria grow more rapidly in warm environments.
  • There may be more chemical contaminants in food.
  • Higher carbon dioxide levels can lower protein and mineral levels in crops like potatoes, rice, and wheat, making them less nutritious.
  • Floods, droughts, and other weather conditions may interfere with food distribution if roads and waterways are inaccessible or damaged. They can also damage crops.

Malnutrition and the lack of food security are major effects of climate change. They can also significantly impact human health.

Waterborne Diseases and Contamination

Climate change may increase our exposure to waterborne pathogens, chemicals, as well as harmful algal and cyanobacterial blooms. When people are exposed to contaminated drinking or recreational water, the risk of ill health increases. Gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhea are common waterborne diseases while kidney or liver damage and nervous or respiratory issues are also caused by contaminated water.

Mental Health and Eco-Anxiety

The negative effects of climate change on health go beyond physical health. They also have dire consequences on mental health.

The consistent perceived threat of climate change can increase stress and mental health issues, leading to eco-anxiety, eco-trauma, or climate change distress. 

Chronic illness or diseases, or even repeated sickness from contaminated water and food, can also gravely impact an individual’s well-being. Moreover, extreme weather conditions and natural disasters can lead to the loss of property or loved ones. 

Such occurrences can lead to feelings of extreme distress, dread, or despondency. Those who continuously experience them may develop PTSD. They may also encounter appetite changes, sleep issues, and concentration difficulties as secondary effects. 

Addressing the Climate Crisis Through Individual and Collective Efforts

Addressing the climate crisis and undoing the damage requires active participation on an individual and global scale. 

Policymakers must implement regulations that can prevent climate change from progressing. These include setting emission reduction goals, making smart decisions about nuclear power generation, adopting carbon taxes, and opening up the electricity production industry to competition among others.

Legislators must also introduce greener alternatives to make these policies viable. Some examples include encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles, providing efficient mass transportation systems, and incentivizing carbon farming

Individually, we can support these measures by following them. We can also go the extra mile by being more aware of practices that aggravate global warming so that we can avoid them. Saving energy at home, using public transport, minimizing the use of air conditioners, and switching to more environmentally-friendly power sources (like solar power) are a few simple steps that can help the planet and our health. You can also donate to IMANA’s climate crisis fund.

IMANA and the Fight Against Climate Change

Climate change is an urgent concern that needs to be fought at every level. The Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) has joined this fight by making sustainability a guidepost in how we operate and by challenging the government and the different sectors of society to do the same.

In 2020, we created a comprehensive sustainability plan for reducing our carbon footprint. Since then, we’ve shifted to more energy-efficient practices at our headquarters, planted trees, and begun prioritizing vendors who operate sustainably. Additionally, IMANA has also withdrawn its endowment fund from all fossil fuel companies.

Climate change is humanity’s biggest and most urgent challenge. With so much at stake, let’s be part of the solution now.