Climate breakdown and our bodies

| 18th October 2019
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Increased pain, respiratory problems, malnutrition: climate change is impacting on our bodies.

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Climate breakdown doesn't stop at spurring on more severe weather patterns, it impacts human health. 

Weather changes increase the degree of pain people feel and the severity of the allergies they experience. Global warming even impacts the nutritional value of our food.

Climate change raises global temperatures. Warmer temperatures create ripe conditions for infectious diseases, especially when paired with increased humidity. 

Disease and pain

Certain disease-bearing insects thrive in warmer conditions. For example, mosquitoes flourish in warmer climates.

In 2017, two million more people fell ill with malaria than in 2016. Additionally, current fracking operations drill deep into the earth where bacteria unseen for decades remain dormant. Many scientists express concerns our obsession with fossil fuels could result in the spread of diseases medical professionals have never seen and do not know how to treat. 

Talk to nearly anybody suffering with chronic pain and they'll tell you that inclement weather negatively impacts the severity of their symptoms. Scientists remain uncertain exactly how weather influences pain levels, but most doctors recognize the correlation between storms and an influx of patients. 

One theory about why inclement weather increases pain severity focusses on the central nervous system. For example, arthritis strips away the cartilage lining your joints, exposing nerve fibres. When bad weather strikes, changes in barometric pressure can increase the sensitivity of a person's nerves, exacerbating symptoms. 

Another theory states when the barometric pressure changes, your tendons expand and contract. As these tendons shift, it causes more severe pain symptoms. 

Respiratory problems 

As global temperatures rise, this traps ground-level ozone pollution within the atmosphere. The result is the signature smog hovering over many US cities. It also exacerbates the symptoms experienced by allergy and asthma sufferers. 

Scientists agree that ozone pollution increases the number of premature deaths. Exposure to air pollution also increases your risk of developing lung cancer and certain neurological conditions. Even those who try to benefit their health by walking or jogging outdoors could damage it by inhaling too much-polluted air. 

​​​​​​​If you have a heart condition, you know that exposure to heat can induce a heart attack. And climate change already raised worldwide temperatures and threatens to continue to do so. 

And it's not only the heat that proves deadly. As the northern ice caps melt, wind vortexes push frigid polar air south. This results in colder, harsher winters for the continental US, particularly across the northeast and midwest. Medical professionals long knew heart attack frequency rises during periods of prolonged cold weather. 

​​​​​​​Recently, Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas, leaving some islands more than 50 percent underwater. Officials list 2,500 residents missing from the area since the catastrophe and the death toll is expected to continue rising. The storm moved on to strike the Carolina coast. Hurricane Maria devastated much of southern Florida and Hurricane Harvey affected large swathes of Texas, among other regions. 

Hunger

Hurricanes represent only one natural disaster exacerbated by climate change. The 2018 Camp Fire, which officials suspect started when high winds knocked down electrical wires, claimed 86 livesand utterly destroyed the town of Paradise, CA. Across the west, multiple wildfires burn, including in Alaska. 

These devastating fires pale in comparison to the destruction of the Amazon. Farmers, desperate to feed their families, set large acres of priceless rainforest ablaze to clear fields for crops to feed livestock.

Even though scientists have debunked the statistic that the Amazon rainforest creates 20 percent of the world's oxygen, the real problem is carbon emissions from the burning. These emissions threaten to accelerate global warming.

Those concerned about the planet do well to reduce their meat consumption, decreasing demand. 

​​​​​​​One recent study of global legume and vegetable production indicates greenhouse gasses could reduce crop yields by 35 percent by the year 2100. Social scientists estimate over 800 million people worldwide already suffer from hunger. Decreased crop yields will impact the poorest and most vulnerable and add millions more to the ranks of the starving. 

Sustainable future 

Additionally, climate change threatens to turn once arable land into deserts. Regions such as the American southwest produce a huge percentage of the nation's food supply because their mild temperatures make year-round crop growing possible.

However, the region remains arid, and further decreases in the water supply will leave many farmers unable to irrigate. As a result, food supply companies will need to import fruits and vegetables from foreign sources, meaning higher transportation costs, less nutritious foods (as nutrients dissipate over time) and additional carbon emissions. 

​​​​​​​Combatting climate change is not solely a matter of simply preserving ecological resources. If we are to safeguard human health from the detrimental effects of global warming, we need to take affirmative action now to end our dependence on fossil fuels.

We also need to institute behavioral changes like cutting back on meat consumption. Only when we begin to truly take this issue seriously as a society will we be able to work toward creating a sustainable future for ourselves, our planet and the organisms we share that planet with.

This Author

Kate Harveston is a vegan health and sustainability writer and the editor of women's wellness blog, So Well, So Woman.

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