Scientists have well documented the effects of climate change on the planet, but we don’t talk much about how it affects our bodies and minds. Here are five surprising impacts of climate change on our health you should know.
Climate change has made it more challenging to produce mature crops in quantity and quality. Growing seasons are shorter and the weather is more unpredictable. Farmers in developed countries often have the resources to make adjustments, but developing countries face a heightened risk of malnutrition.
Additionally, a suboptimal climate takes away our food’s nutritional value. Many fruits and vegetables grown today are far less nutritious than crops grown decades ago. They lack vital vitamins and minerals the body needs to function properly.
About 829 million people are already undernourished worldwide, which stunts their physical and mental development. Climate change certainly isn’t the main cause of global malnutrition, but it can worsen the problem in the coming years.
2. Spread of Infectious Diseases
The planet’s temperature increase has enabled the spread of many infectious diseases. Pathogen-carrying animals and microorganisms — especially mosquitoes — prefer warm and wet climates. Sea levels are rising, water temperatures are increasing and moderate climates are heating up, allowing these organisms to migrate to new regions and infect healthy populations.
Here are some potentially deadly diseases that have benefited from climate change:
- Malaria: a flu-like illness carried by mosquitoes with the potential to cause anemia, jaundice and even death due to the loss of red blood cells.
- Dengue: a disease causing high fevers, rashes and painful muscle cramps. The worst cases can also have severe bleeding and lead to death.
- Zika: this illness is sometimes asymptomatic, but it usually causes a fever, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and many other symptoms. It’s also linked to a condition called microcephaly which causes babies to have undersized heads.
- Chikungunya: another virus carried by mosquitoes, chikungunya causes severe fevers and debilitating joint and muscle pains.
While most disease-carrying organisms have been staying in the hotter continents, they now have access to certain parts of the Northern Hemisphere that were previously unreachable. The people in these areas could suffer severe outbreaks if a foreign disease gets to them — we just experienced a similar phenomenon with COVID-19.
3. Heat Strokes
Heat strokes and dehydration are perhaps the least-surprising health consequences of climate change. With warmer average temperatures, the number of heat strokes and other heat-related deaths has spiked in the 21st century.
The United States has suffered the most for two reasons. The high obesity rate is partly to blame, but American cities also get unbearably hot during the summer. Heat-related health problems can cause permanent harm to vital organs, including brain damage.
4. Respiratory Illnesses
Asthma and other respiratory allergy diagnoses have increased worldwide in recent years. Climate change might be to blame. Due to changing weather patterns, various land and air changes are worsening symptoms. Fossil fuels, and early exposure to pollution, could be making asthma and allergy responses more deadly.
5. Mental Health
Natural disasters have become more frequent in recent years, partly due to climate change. Aside from the physical damage, these disasters lead to many mental health problems — victims often suffer from PTSD, anxiety and depression. Additionally, climate change is a complex subject to talk about. Simply speaking about this issue has been known to increase stress and cause us to worry about our futures.
Save the Planet, Save Your Health
Humans are extensions of our environments. An unhealthy climate leads to an unhealthy mind and body. However, studying and teaching about climate change can help raise climate awareness, ease anxiety and allow you to be part of the change. By taking effective action to save the planet, you’re also taking action to protect your health. It takes a global effort to combat climate change, so every one of us needs to make health a top priority.
Author bio: Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Environment.co. To read more posts from Jane, sign up for Biofriendly Planet’s newsletter!