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How Global Warming Becomes a Real Threat for our Health
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Blog...How Global Warming Becomes a Real Threat for our Health

How Global Warming Becomes a Real Threat for our Health

Green News
Global Warming
doctor and patient
In this article we’ll explore why global warming is such a threat to human health and what we can do to mitigate it.
Green News
2023-04-14T00:00:00.000Z
en-gb
doctor and patient

Global warming is described as the challenge of the century. It’s something that affects almost every aspect of life, not least our health. Clean air, access to nutritious food, safety from the elements and access to sufficient water supplies are all under threat and the hard fact of the matter is that global warming has the potential to undermine years and years of progress in global health. Global warming is therefore also the biggest health crisis of our time. 

👉 In this article we’ll explore why global warming is such a threat to human health and what we can do to mitigate it.

The link between global warming and health

According to the WHO (World Health Organisation), by 2050 climate change is expected to result in 250,000 deaths per year on account of malnutrition, diarrhoea, heat stress and malaria alone. And by 2030 alone, we can expect the resulting costs from damage to human health to amount to between 2 and 4 billion USD per year. Global warming is one of the greatest health security threats we face.

Let’s take a look at how exactly global warming is impacting human health around the world:

Extreme weather events

Over recent years we’ve seen increasingly severe and frequent climate related weather events - the number of extreme weather events has increased fivefold over the last fifty years alone, and has resulted in the deaths of more than 2 million people. Worryingly the situation is only getting worse - 2022 for example was the hottest year on record in many countries, with extreme heat waves felt across much of Europe and China. This presents a direct risk to human health. When temperatures are too high and the body is unable to cool down sufficiently this can result in heat related illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, kidney disease and in extreme cases may even result in death. In fact a third of heat-related deaths can be directly linked to climate change. 

In many historic European cities it’s either not possible or very difficult to have AC which means that it can be difficult to find respite from the heat. The very young and elderly are particularly vulnerable when it comes to the effects of heat. 

Other extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change include incidences of flooding and storms. Weather patterns are being affected by the increasing global temperatures which means that rainfall is becoming more frequent and more intense in nature. At the same time storms are also becoming more unpredictable and frequent which can also bring with it heavy downpours. Just look at the catastrophic flooding that took place in Pakistan in 2022. A combination of heavier rainfall resulting from the more intense than usual monsoon season, alongside excess water in the river systems as a result of melting glaciers caused flooding over a third of the country and resulted in the direct deaths of nearly 2,000 people. 

In total, 33 million people living in Pakistan were affected by the floods, and almost 1 million people lost their homes. Loss of homes and businesses can also have a severe impact on human health. Without access to safe drinking water and shelter, many families in Pakistan have been left exposed to the elements and struggling to access the basic necessities to survive. Lack of clean drinking water can also increase the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dengue and malaria - diseases that can severely impact health and even cause death.

man sitting in hut above flooded river

Disease and pests

Warming climates are causing the migration of species of insects and pests into areas in which they were previously unseen, bringing with them the threat of new disease. Mosquitos for example are now surviving much further north than before, and new species are being observed in countries such as the UK and Northern Europe. Insects such as these are a threat to human health on account of the diseases that they carry. 

In Europe we’ve seen outbreaks of the West Nile Virus on account of mosquitos that have migrated to the area due to warmer spring weather. They also increase the risk of other diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and zika virus. 

Another example of the way in which global warming is increasing the threat of disease from pests and insects is that of the tick. Ticks can carry with them diseases such as Lyme disease, and milder winters and warmer springs in countries across Europe mean that they’re active for longer periods of time, which increases the threat of these creatures. Not only this but new species of ticks are being found in countries where they previously weren’t.

mosquito on skin

Air pollution

Air pollution is probably the most widely talked about and publicised health threat from global warming - it’s estimated that air pollution is responsible for as much as 7 million premature deaths per year! 

Long term exposure to polluted air causes a host of health issues and even reduces life expectancies of populations. Frequent exposure can cause respiratory diseases and even lung cancer, it also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and has been linked to health problems such as dementia. 

The effects of air pollution are not experienced evenly throughout the world; regions that are particularly susceptible to drought are the most likely to experience poor air quality from dust blown off soil, or from smoke caused by wildfires. While cities tend to suffer the worst effects of pollution from the burning of fossil fuels. Areas with higher levels of pollution see increased hospital admittance for issues such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease. They also see higher than average cases of asthma in the population. 

Primarily driven by emissions released by vehicles or industry (both of which are responsible for significant carbon dioxide emissions and are drivers of climate change), poor air quality is exacerbated by global warming - the hotter climate and periods of heatwaves leads to increased ozone and particulate matter (including allergens in the air) which harms public health.

pollution being released from factory

Food supply

Global warming is a significant risk factor when it comes to food supply. It not only affects food production by increasing climate stressors and extreme weather events, but can also disrupt the global supply chain. 

The regions most at risk from climate induced food scarcity can be found in the Global South -  in particular Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. These regions are already vulnerable when it comes to weather-related events, and global warming is only making the situation worse. Crops and food production may be affected by extreme weather related events (for example droughts, flooding, storms etc), but global warming can also cause a much slower and more insidious change - climate change can gradually impact an area’s agricultural capacity through long-term shifts in weather and decreased soil nutrition. Increased temperatures and less reliable rainfall are decreasing the farmability of certain areas, crops are also coming under threat from disease brought about by insects and pests. 

Whether an area is affected by a sudden catastrophic weather event, or whether it’s a slower more long-term change, the effects are the same - farmers are no longer able to produce food and food supplies are impacted. Of course, the worst affected are the local communities who often depend on local farmers for their food supply; they are the most vulnerable to famine and starvation. But the impacts are global with supply chain issues rippling across the world. Drops in food production and decreased access to food, combined with a decreased nutrition and a more limited diet can have consequences for human health.

supermarket shelves filled with fresh food

Water security

Human health is reliant on access to safe and sufficient levels of water, and global warming is putting access for millions of people under threat. In Asia for example, over 800,000 million people rely on glaciers for freshwater, however if we experience a temperature rise of over 2 degrees, regions that are reliant on glaciers and snowmelt could experience a 20% decline, putting strain on water supplies and putting human health at risk.

boy drinking water from tap

Mental health

Global warming hugely impacts almost every aspect of our lives - it impacts the food we eat, the water we drink, our jobs and even politics. When communities find themselves suffering from the effects of climate stressors such as extreme weather events they may even find themselves without a home or job. The health effects of such incidents are not just physical, but mental too. Climate change is placing significant strain on our psychological health.

What can we do to protect human health from global warming?

Climate change is a global issue and something that affects us all. If we are to avoid the worst effects of global warming on human health, every government, company, and individual must make the effort to reduce their carbon footprint. We must take every effort to transition to a net zero economy and to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees celsius. It’s the only way we can prevent the escalating crisis. 

But climate change mitigation alone is not enough. An IPCC report published in 2022 stated that many of the impacts of global warming are irreversible, which means that we’ll still see the effects of climate change even if we manage to reach the net zero 2050 target. This means that human health is under threat even if we decarbonise our society. Therefore, it is essential for the sake of human health that we also take steps to adapt to climate change in order to reduce the worst effects.

In terms of healthcare adaptation this means that we need to make our healthcare systems and facilities more resilient, as well as ensure that they’re able to cope with the increasing numbers of people who need some form of care as a result of climate change.

Thankfully adaptation efforts are increasing, though many experts warn that progress is unevenly distributed and slow. More political backing and finance is needed to help populations adapt to the worst effects and to protect human health and lives from its impacts. 

What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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