Climate change and global warming have impacted the earth’s ecosystem negatively by disrupting the earth’s natural processes and causing destruction to plant, animal, and human life.
For example, unpredictable or more severe weather events such as earthquakes, wildfires, drought, hurricanes, etc., directly impact the ecosystem by destroying anything on its path, which includes forests, urban cities, and natural habitats.
Extreme weather events
Climate change has evidently increased the earth’s surface temperature. From increasing wildfire events, increase in mosquitoes, we can physically feel that the planet is getting warmer.
Furthermore, this constantly increasing temperature will mean that the earth is just getting hotter, and more severe consequences should be expected if we keep ignoring this matter.
Firstly, heatwaves will become more frequent and intense as global temperatures rise, resulting in more cases of heat exhaustion, heatstroke, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, even deaths.
Furthermore, heatwaves are dangerous for people with chronic conditions and can impact children’s growth or even cause stillbirths. In fact, research has found that climate change is responsible for 37% of all heat-related deaths worldwide.
Secondly, climate change causes precipitation (rainfall) extremes which leads to either flood from heavy rainfall or drought from extremely dry weather. Floods are one of the deadliest natural disasters because of their impact when the flooding occurs and after the flooding has passed.
During the flood, buildings and possessions are damaged from the water intrusion. And later, water intrusion inside buildings can form molds and contamination leading to air quality problems.
Additionally, floods can carry diseases and viruses, such as respiratory diseases, pneumonia, etc., which are especially dangerous to people living in damp environments.
On the other hand, drought from a dry summer and rainfall deficit also pose health risks, as it could lead to other weather events such as wildfires, dust storms, and degraded water quality for human consumption.
The next extreme weather event is wildfires. A high temperature and dry summer lead to wildfires, which has already happened a few times. Wildfires destroy some species' natural habitats.
Wildfires produce smokes that contain harmful gasses such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, etc. Exposure to these harmful gasses can result in cardiovascular and respiratory problems, lung diseases, and its most fatal impact is death.
A study has found that wildfires are associated with very harmful impacts to health as it is associated to hundreds to thousands of deaths annually.
Diseases from increased heat
Air pollution such as increasing ground-level ozone and carbon dioxide is exacerbated by climate change and harms human health. Pollution could also originate from wildfires and emissions from industrial activities.
Besides increasing the global temperature, it impacts human health by respiratory illnesses from the harmful airborne particles and poor air quality. Based on a US study, health-related costs of the current effects of ozone air pollution have been estimated at 6.5 billion dollars nationwide.
Next, vectors such as fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes can carry diseases and pathogens and cause illnesses. The distribution of these vectors varies geographically and seasonally, and they are usually attracted to humid and arid areas such as the tropical and subtropical areas.
An increase in global temperature impacts the geographical distribution of these vectors by expanding their habitable zones and distribution to areas that have never been exposed to this airborne organism.
As a result, new diseases from the viruses that these vectors can carry are spread. For example, the Zika virus or yellow fever, carried by mosquitoes, is now exposed to half of the world’s population.
Recovery from diseases caused by these pathogens can require months, and prevention strategies can be costly such as creating new vaccines and medications.
Water and food availability
As mentioned above, droughts can degrade water quality for human consumption, and groundwater drying leads to water shortage. As water is a sink source for some gasses, poor air quality containing toxic gasses could also result in water contamination.
However, climate change also causes a rise in sea levels, which can displace people living around the coastal areas due to permanent flooding.
Furthermore, intense heat is also harmful to livestock and the availability of crops. As the groundwater gets drier, lands for grazing are becoming less suitable for cropping, causing a decline in crop nutrients and micronutrients.
The result is an increase in food prices; thus, lower-income households struggle to retain their essential micronutrients, and some regions have risks of hunger.
It is predicted that at this current rate, more than 80 million people will suffer from hunger, and 150 million people to be at risk of protein deficiency by 2050.
As a result, climate change has a substantial impact on the food chain, potentially resulting in food crises, which could result in a major conflict including sickness and even death.
Mental health and stress-related disorders
Extreme weather events can cause mental illness by a phenomenon called “common reactions to abnormal events.”
This phenomenon usually occurs following a disaster, where there is an increase of mental health risk among those who have no history of mental illness and those who are. These could be short-term or long-term cases, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).
A study has also suggested that rising temperatures and impacts of climate change lead to an increase in short or long-term mental illnesses such as depression.
Furthermore, some diseases and mental illnesses are susceptible to intense heat. For example, schizophrenia patients are at risk at hotter temperatures as their medication may interfere with temperature regulations and can cause hyperthermia.
Unless drastic adjustments are made, climate change will continue to degrade our planet's health and reduce its ability to sustain human life. Multiple strategies have been made such as the Paris agreement and other sustainable movements, but now it is our responsibility to implement these changes to our lives to save our planet.
At least 37% of heat-related deaths are already caused by human-driven climate change. How much more will we allow that to increase in the future?
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Olivia Eugenia is an Environmental Science student at the University of Western Australia. She is also an activist and a content writer at the International Youth Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.