Changing Climate, Changing Health

Illustration by Jennifer Broza

Illustration by Jennifer Broza

The environment is not the same as it was ten years ago, and will not be the same ten years from now. There has been an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere, and these gases are getting trapped. When these gases cannot escape the atmosphere, average temperatures rise, there are changes in rainfall, severe weather events occur more frequently and rates of disease rise. Climate change affects many aspects of our environment, as well as health.

The increase in average temperature has an adverse impact on the health of many individuals. Deaths of elderly individuals suffering from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases have increased due to rising air temperatures [3]. The massive heat waves in major US cities, including St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati, have led to many deaths from heat stroke, as well as pre-existing conditions that are exacerbated by heat [1]. The average temperature has been increasing due to excessive carbon dioxide release from factories and vehicles. These gases get trapped in the atmosphere and adversely impact many individuals. Although the rising temperatures may not be fatal for everyone, the heat certainly impacts all individuals in a variety of ways. Dehydration is common, and if untreated, especially in developing countries, this may lead to death. The nations lacking resources to deal with these rising temperatures are hit the hardest, as treatment and other methods of protection are uncommon and costly.

Mental health is greatly impacted by climate change, but often overlooked. Natural disasters frequently trigger mental health issues whether individuals have suffered from these diseases before or not [1]. Natural disasters destroy homes, cities and tear families apart. This leads to increased anxiety and uncertainty. A major outcome of natural disasters is that they often destroy basic health and medical infrastructure [4]. This means that “fundamental resources such as food, shelter and clean water will likely be missing for at least a week to 14 days after an initial event,” enabling faster transmission of disease [4]. When disease and illness spread quickly, public health officials are overwhelmed by the volume of cases. The large number of sick individuals puts pressure on society to treat them, even if the infrastructure to do so was destroyed in the natural disaster. Public health disasters are quite common after natural disasters as frequently, much of a city’s public health and health care buildings are ruined.

Missouri is greatly affected by these environmental changes. The state has already seen, and is expected to see more, changes in agriculture and weather patterns. There has been an increase in the number of tornadoes, floods, droughts, and heat waves [2]. Air quality has also decreased in Missouri, negatively impacting pregnant individuals, the elderly and those with respiratory diseases [2]. This can be fatal for those with fewer resources, as well as those who are already ill. Not only is health now being impacted, but future health is also at risk. The increased rainfall causes two major problems with agriculture:since river levels have risen, crops are unable to properly drain [2], resulting in higher mud levels and decreased crop yield. The second issue stemming from increased precipitation is that there is more moisture in the air, allowing the pests that kill crops to thrive, decreasing overall yield [2]. It has been predicted that, if environmental changes continue at the speed that they are at now, by 2050, Missouri agricultural efficiency will decline to the state’s 1980 levels [2]. This means that food availability for citizens is decreasing, which may cause health problems if individuals cannot get a sufficient amount of food.

Climate change negatively impacts the world, as well as the individuals living in it. The changes that have occurred in recent years have proved fatal to many individuals, and have forced others to seek treatment and aid. Climate change does more than just change weather patterns; it is harmful to society and the health of all.

Edited by: Julia Bulova

Illustrated by: Avni Joshi




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