Climate Change Having a Dire Impact on Health

Jul 8th, 2014 | By | Category: Health and Climate Change, Information and Communication, News

Barack_Obama_with_European_leaders-400x267The impact of climate change is often looked upon as a solely environmental one, with less consideration given to the detrimental health implications it is already having.

At a recent Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) Congress, entitled ‘Future Directions in Health’, climate change was highlighted as the number one threat to health this century, with reducing carbon emissions seen as a key step in health improvement. Indeed, such is the increased level of concern over the impact of climate change on health that some are urging GPs to consider it as a direct health problem.

New Zealand is leading the drive, with several district health boards providing free installations to the families most in need. There are, however, concerns over a seeming reluctance from some doctors to engage in the initiative. Dr Rhys Jones, of The New Zealand Health and Climate Council, suggests that further incentives need to be provided in order to encourage GPs to consider more their green credentials.

Heat-related disease especially are seen as a major concern, with research suggesting that heat and humidity in certain parts of the US could lead to weather that humans are literally unable to cope with. The report, which was instigated by philanthropist Thomas Steyer, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, measures danger based on a “Humid Heat Stroke Index”. Although critical levels have not yet been reached, the research suggests that if current trends continue, such conditions could be relatively frequent in certain areas in the not so distant future.

The issue comes with the combination of heat and humidity, which means that sweat cannot evaporate and thus the human body’s cooling process fails to function. Such conditions have already resulted in deaths – in Chicago in 1995, for example, where several hundred deaths were recorded in a single week.

As with many aspects of climate change, this type of adverse weather condition will most predominantly effect the poor – those unable to afford cooling systems and unable to relocate away from areas with such problematic conditions. This will have a huge impact on public health and will put severe strain on medical resources.

Even the White House has joined the discussion, which on top of the danger of intense heat on the health of Americans also mentions flooding as a further concern. Indeed, President Barack Obama put forward a Climate Action Plan in 2013, with the intention of limiting the detrimental impacts of climate change, both in the US and globally.

Such potential impacts are listed further and include the increasing prevalence of asthma, which has doubled in recent years,  and other respiratory diseases, as well as certain vector-borne diseases. Lyme disease especially is mentioned as having become increasingly common.

According to the report, President Barack Obama is determined to “cut carbon pollution, protect our children’s health and begin to slow the effects of climate change”. With the health implications now very much a reality, the time to act has well and truly arrived.

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