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article imageHuman-caused climate change: The challenges and opportunities

By Karen Graham     Sep 22, 2014 in Environment
The climate march on Sunday is over, and citizens worldwide now await the outcome of the U.N. Climate Summit. It is appropriate that today, a study has come out, detailing the links between health, the environment and global warming.
The world today is up to its neck in crisis' and causes, from the Ebola epidemic and terrorist threats, to thousands of refugees starving to death. But an ever larger crisis has gripped the minds of the worlds people, and that is human-caused climate change.
Two-thirds of the American public and nine out of ten European countries believe that climate change is occurring, and that it is a threat that needs to be addressed. The possibility of climate change impacting us in our lifetimes is one of the reasons driving the need to find concrete solutions to rising green house gas emissions.
Studying the wide-ranging effects of climate change
The question of how global temperature increases will affect our health and economies is the basis of many studies to date. One such study, published today in the online Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) details the challenges as well as the opportunities in global climate change.
With 97 percent of scientists believing climate change is caused by humans, the study endeavored to lay out what the effects of human caused climate change are doing to the public's health. Researchers went through over 250 articles, from 2009 to 2014 relating to climate change and health. A total of 56 articles, with predictive models and epidemiological studies, were chosen.
Over 13 climate models were used, and the data from them was used to project future downscaled temperature distributions on daily maximum temperatures for 2046 to 2065. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climate Data Center was also used to get average eight-hour temperature variations.
It became evident in looking at the data that rising temperatures will have an adverse effect on the public health. By 2050, most of the U.S. will be drastically different from what we are seeing today. The study found that 90 degree days will be the norm, with New York and Milwaukee averaging two to three times as many days averaging 90 degrees or more. So how do these high temperatures affect our health?
Health problems exacerbated by rising temperatures
We are already seeing the effects of extreme heat. Heat-related deaths are becoming common during the summer months, in the U.S. as well as in other countries. The CDC says that even though winter weather-related deaths are high, data is now showing that heat-related deaths in the U.S. are increasing. In 1995, there were 465 heat-related deaths in Chicago, Illinois, but from 1999 to 2010, there were 7,415 deaths, or about 618 a year.
Worldwide, respiratory disease is on the increase. particularly those diseases like asthma and COPD, made worse by fine particulate pollutants. At least 43 million people in the U.S. live in areas that exceed the EPA’s health standards for fine particulate matter in the air. Warmer temperatures have also led to increased pollination, a bane to allergy sufferers.
The prolonged drought being experienced in the western part of the country, along with hot temperatures has fueled forest fires, adding additional particulates to the air. People who work outdoors are also affected, and researchers predict that by 2050, workdays lost to the heat will rise 15 to 18 percent in countries like South East Asia, South and Central America and large areas of Africa.
Infectious and water-borne diseases have already become a problem, and will get worse as temperatures continue to rise. West Nile Fever, Malaria, dengue fever, and chikungunya virus are increasing. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that with rising temperatures and a change in seasonal rainfall patterns, insect-borne diseases will have longer seasons.
Mental health problems will increase. Think of Super-storm Sandy, or Katrina. The rise in the number of cases of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) increased after these two events. The tornadoes we have experienced this year, many of them coming earlier than usual, and the flooding in the United Kingdom, Pakistan, China, India and the Philippines have all played a part in affecting the mental health of innumerable victims of these tragic events.
Economic problems are intertwined with climate change
The report mentions the economic loss due to illness, but it goes much further than sick people. When algae blooms shut down water treatment plants leaving cities without drinking water, or rivers and other bodies of water are too polluted to swim or fish in, this affects the economy of an area. Even worse is the thought that drought and famine are also related to climate change.
Food-insecurity is one of the pit-falls of climate change. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are expected to lower global food production by two percent every decade, even though food demand will grow 14 percent. Food-insecurity has grown recently in countries like Syria and Somalia. Global response is now being strained to the breaking point.
What kind of solutions are available?
The United Nations Climate Summit will start on Sept. 23, and this will be the time to take positive action on the people's will. We cannot go on burning fossil fuels, adding to the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. The researchers say reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a critical step in gaining better health and more economic stability on a worldwide basis.
The authors of the new study—from the Global Health Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, say a number of solutions are available to mitigate climate change. Many of them would improve the health of many people almost immediately. The authors say: "Reducing greenhouse gas, deploying sustainable energy technologies, shifting transportation patterns, and improving building design—many of which yield multiple benefits—are feasible, cost-effective, and attractive to multiple parties."
It is a matter of developing a plan and putting it into action. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to correct our mistakes. In an editorial that went along with the study, Dr. Howard Bauchner, the editor-in-chief of JAMA, and Dr. Phil Fontanarosa, the journal’s executive editor, write: “Understanding and characterizing this threat and educating the medical community, public, and policy makers are crucial if the health of the world’s population is to continue to improve during the latter half of the 21st century.”
More about humancaused, Climate change, Health effects, economic effects, Worldwide
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