Former American Vice President and environmental activist Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, marked the beginning of the climate change movement . Since then, the movement has gained international traction and has forced the general public to realize that their actions are directly related to the rise in global temperatures. This is echoed by a recently released report by the Global Change Research Program, which assessed the current effects of climate change on human health and its future implications. The report details that the warming of the earth, increasing levels of pollutants in the air, and a heightened frequency of severe and unpredictable weather events has resulted in a large number of deaths and illnesses. In addition, it is reported that prolonged exposure to increased temperatures has been associated with greater occurrences of cardiovascular, kidney, and respiratory diseases. Even more importantly, given the growing global consumption rate, the unbearable heat levels have had a negative effect on the global food supply. As the demand for food rises and more droughts and famines occur as a result of global warming, more people will face malnutrition and disease. With these trends established, it is not surprising that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is predicted to cause an additional 250, 000 deaths per year.
Recently, what has become increasingly concerning is the effect of the aforementioned phenomena on the spread of disease and- to a certain degree- mental health. In fact, increases in temperature are not only responsible for heat waves; they also may make conditions ripe for disease spread. Most disease pathogens are temperature sensitive, and they tend to be transmitted by vectors (the term given to organisms that carry them) such as mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks. Increases in temperatures will favour prolonged insect life, as they are cold-blooded organisms that rely on their surrounding environment to control their internal heat. Thus, incidence and distribution of insect diseases such as Dengue fever, Yellow fever, Malaria, Lyme disease, Zika, and Chikungunya have changed, with the diseases spreading northward at an alarming rate, and increased frequency of outbreaks occurring. Mosquitoes and ticks have fewer generation times than other insects and for this reason, can rapidly adapt to new environments and rapidly spread their vector diseases. Furthermore, rainfall is thought to favour disease spread as it increases people’s exposure to water related contaminants.
What about mental health and its connection to climate change? The thing is, everything that results from climate change- from losses and displacements to injuries and illnesses- brings about an emotional exhaustion that psychologically impacts individuals. For example, extreme heat has been associated with increased aggression in people. As well, some studies have found that when air pollution makes its way to the brain, neural inflammation may result. This has been linked to multiple mental and neurologic problems including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Obviously, not all of the effects of climate change can be accounted for- however, t the trauma left behind by climate change is often the most profound and possibly the most difficult to treat. Today, professionals are coming across a greater number of psychiatric disorders in victims of climate change, including depression, PTSD, a rise in drug and alcohol abuse, which in some cases lead to violence. It is for this reason that we must connect with others on an emotional level, especially since we could easily be in their position. Currently, the majority of the world realizes the dire situation they are in, and they have some understanding of the problem of climate change. Yet, there is not enough collective action being taken in the name of this cause. One prominent example is the People’s Climate Movement March, which took place 100 days after Trump assumed presidency. 300,000 people marched on Washington to declare the need for “jobs, unity, and climate action” amplifying just how passionate people are about the planet and its current and future state.
Ultimately, the effects of climate change on health are becoming more and more apparent, and it’s becoming clear that inaction on matters pertaining to climate change is destructive to humanity as a whole. When we identify climate change as a collective issue that affects the most privileged and the most disadvantaged, significant strides can be made.