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Climate Tightly Intertwined with Health

Paul Kando

Climate Tightly Intertwined with Health Fossil fuel dependency, climate ignorance, no decent health care, attacks on the dignity of women – how are these issues connected? Climate change affects the environment and may also be the most serious health threat we face. More people die during heat waves. Their ability to work and sleep is impaired. If the body can’t dissipate the heat, people suffer potentially fatal heat strokes. Existing health problems are aggravated. There is more violence.

photo credit: Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Severe weather injures or kills people, displaces them, disrupt medical care and aggravate mental health problems. Air quality deteriorates. Ozone is formed in the air. A respiratory toxin, it attacks the airways and triggers asthma attacks. The chemical reactions that create ozone are driven by heat: the hotter the weather, the higher the ozone level.

Warmth-loving beetles invade forests and kill trees. Wild fires follow. Their particulate emissions drifting downwind can kill. Pollen producers like ragweed grow more robustly under high CO2 and high heat conditions. Allergens become more common. The pollen season may get longer. The allergen in poison ivy becomes more toxic.

In hot weather diseases spread more easily. Ticks become more metabolically active and their incubation period is shortened. Pathogens also do better under warmer conditions. Tropical disease niches expand. Dengue and Lyme are spreading across the US. Gastrointestinal diseases, diarrhea and cholera surge during hot spells. After severe rainfall, disease-carrying insects proliferate in drinking water supplies.

As the world warms, crops originally bred under Holocene climatic conditions. don’t do as well. Warmer conditions and high CO2 levels lower the protein, zinc, and micronutrient content of many food crops. When food availability declines, prices rise and food-insecure people buy dense, nutrient-poor junk foods, become obese and suffer from diabetes. Many go hungry.

Disasters upend people’s lives. When Hurricane Katrina displaced thousands, mental health issues like domestic violence, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety became public health impacts. In warm weather, the ability to dissipate heat is impaired. People with severe mental illness have especially high mortality rates.

Consider that the Syrian conflict began with a long climate-related drought before the Arab Spring. The subsequent deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands was a terrible public health disaster.. What if Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles, or Phoenix has to disperse its population because of sea level rise, excessive heat, or fresh water shortage? Where will they go? What about their medical care, housing and employment – all necessities for good health? Climate change is a health-risk aggravator.

People who live in low-income areas face a greater risk of getting sick, losing their livelihoods, living in poverty, and being displaced when weather disasters strike, These communities are also the least likely to have affordable access to healthcare they need to discover early warning signs of illnesses like those caused or exacerbated by environmental factors.

Fossil fuel profiteers deny climate change. Males scheming to undermine access to decent health care assault women’s dignity and free choice. Population impacts energy use. Energy use impacts climate. It’s all the same struggle. Only when we act together can we prevail.