Some 250,000 additional deaths per year caused by global warming are expected between 2030 and 2050 according to the World Health Organization, due to the increase in heat stress, dengue fever, malaria and malnutrition.
From the air we breathe to the water we drink, climate change is having serious repercussions on our health, and they will continue to double in severity if nothing changes. Here are some of the health consequences that can be expected:
Breathing won’t be so easy
Air pollution and warmer temperatures damage the airways and exacerbate asthma and chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis. Pollution can actually cause asthma in many people. In addition, climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of forest fires which release huge amounts of smoke that can spread for hundreds of kilometres.
The smoke from these wildfires is intensely laden with particles that cause premature death, worsen asthma, increase the risk of heart attack, and have been linked to premature births and other adverse birth outcomes.
Spread and aggravation of more diseases
Climate change increases the risk of disease due to increased temperature, increased frequency of heavy rains and runoff, and the effects of storms. Health effects can include gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhea, effects on the body’s nervous and respiratory systems, or damage to the liver and kidneys.
Extreme heat makes it really difficult for our body to regulate, which affects people with cardiovascular disease but also related health issues, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. This makes these people more vulnerable to dehydration, heat stroke and heat stress.
Additionally, rising temperatures and changes in rainfall can make regions more or less hospitable to carriers of diseases like mosquitoes and ticks, which means malaria, dengue and Lyme disease can spread. in areas that were not at risk before. Warmer temperatures can also affect the rate at which certain pathogens grow and replicate, for example, some of the bacteria that cause food poisoning.
Less and less restorative sleep
A study published in One Earth in May 2022 found that, by 2099, rising temperatures could reduce our sleep time by 50 to 58 hours each year, that’s the equivalent of losing more than a week of sleep per year. It’s harder for people to sleep in higher heat, especially those without access to cooling or ventilation.
Concrete, impermeable surfaces and lack of greenery trap heat within the city limits, and at night, when our ecosystem is set to release heat, it gets trapped, and then in the morning it gets worse. All of this affects, and will affect, sleep.
The One Earth study cites research that shows sleep loss is linked to more impaired cognitive function, reduced immunity to disease, as well as increased risk of injury, heart problems and mental health issues. .
Water will make us sick
Climate effects can affect exposure to waterborne pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and parasites), toxins produced by harmful algal and cyanobacterial blooms in water, and chemicals that end up in water. water due to human activities. Runoff and flooding resulting from increased extreme precipitation, hurricane rains and storm surges will increasingly contaminate water bodies used for recreation (lakes, beaches), shellfish harvesting sites and drinking water sources.
Extreme weather events can also damage or exceed the capacity of water infrastructure, such as drinking water or wastewater treatment plants, increasing the risk of people being exposed to contaminants.
Much more pollen, therefore much more seeds
Warmer temperatures also mean plants produce more pollen, and many allergy sufferers find that their allergies are more severe and the allergy season is longer. Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health reported that carbon pollution and warmer temperatures cause plants to produce more pollen during longer growing seasons.
Indeed, scientists have suggested that average pollen counts in 2040 will be more than double what they were in 2000, and that these changes may also make eczema worse.
Mental health will not be spared
Loud noises and large crowds can be overwhelming, raising cortisol levels and stress, and certain environmental exposures such as bad weather and housing conditions can trigger certain mental disorders. Other studies also show that rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress increase in more polluted areas.
A study published in Psychiatric Quarterly in 2020 showed that disasters compounded by climate change can lead to increased alcohol and substance use as a coping mechanism.
This small list could certainly be a source of stress and anxiety about the future, and these health consequences are not the least serious. That said, we can still prepare and adapt, by putting in place early warning systems for heat waves and other extreme events, by taking measures to reduce the vulnerabilities of the populations concerned, by raising awareness among health professionals and ensuring that infrastructure is built to adapt to projected future climate changes.