Climate change is hurting our health. This isn’t something we can worry about in the future – it’s a problem that’s right here, right now.
Extreme weather events, like heat waves and mega storms, are obvious examples of how climate change can directly hurt our health, but our changing climate can touch our lives in many other ways. Variable weather patterns and rising temperatures hurt food production, allow diseases to spread into new regions, and contribute to global instability, conflict, and the movement of people.
As the world’s population grows, more people are exposed to climate threats, especially those fleeing the areas most impacted. Also as societies age, more elderly people are vulnerable to heat waves. According to the 2015 Commission on Health and Climate Change released in the Lancet, forecasts predict that there will be an additional 1.4 billion people affected by drought every year by the end of the century. Extreme heat is closely connected to premature death and illness, and often combines with high levels of air pollution to worsen overall health conditions.
The report also estimates that there will be two billion additional people affected by extreme storms, partly due to population growth in exposed areas and partly due to the rising number of extreme storms as a result of climate change. Extreme rainfall frequently results in dangerous flooding, especially when tied to drought, changing land use patterns, and sea level rise.
The numbers are stark: the World Health Organization estimated in 2014 that 250,000 people will die each year from 2030 to 2050 as a result of well-understood effects of climate change, largely due to a rise in heat exposure, higher rates of disease, and food scarcity. Crops and livestock are sensitive to weather variation, leading to increasing food prices and more malnutrition.
We need to quickly cut our greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to take steps to make our communities more resilient to the effects of climate change. Those ideas range from big issues like more agricultural research, improving infrastructure, disease monitoring, extreme weather detection systems, all the way to an oldie but a goodie – planting trees to cool down our communities.
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Our leaders need to know this matters to us. We are worried about air quality and what our children are breathing. We are worried about our parents and grandparents so vulnerable to extreme heat. We are worried about increasing food prices. We are worried about more extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, with their devastating loss of life and property.
Our elected representatives need to feel that worry – they need to know we care and we want to see our families’ health and well-being at the top of every list when it comes to action on climate change. You can find your US Representatives here. Give them a call or write them a letter. Remember they work for we the people!
Infographics courtesy of Climate Nexus.