Health & the climate crisis

Climate change is an undeniable reality; we are living in a warmer world with more severe pollution, and now we are just beginning to see its effects on our health. Earlier this year, headline news told us of the first person, a nine-year-old girl called Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, in the UK to have air pollution listed as the cause of death on their death certificate. This was both shocking and scary news. If we do not do enough now to combat climate change, there will be more unnecessary deaths in the future. Toxic and polluted air has severe effects on our health. It is considered a major risk factor in the incidence and progression of diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and fetal growth. Nitrogen dioxide, which enters the air from the burning of fuel in vehicles, and sulphur dioxide, which comes from the burning of fossil fuels, irritates the airways of the lungs, which increases the symptoms of those suffering from lung diseases. Particulates are carried deep into the lungs, where they cause inflammation, which worsens heart and lung diseases. Carbon monoxide, which comes from the incomplete combustion of fuels, prevents the uptake of oxygen in the blood, leading to significant reduction in the supply of oxygen by the heart, especially affecting heart disease sufferers. People suffering from heart diseases are more vulnerable to increased temperatures, as their cardiovascular system needs to work harder to maintain a regular body temperature. These days, 99% of London does not meet the WHO recommended limits, meaning we are all suffering the effects of this. There is also growing evidence that polluted air increases transmission of coronavirus particles, which worsens infection and death rates. Unfortunately, it is people from minority ethnic communities and low-income families that fare the worst, as they are the most likely to live in areas with high air pollution. Increasing global temperatures has been seen to influence human health. Climate researchers predict that Earth’s temperature will increase by 2oC by 2050 if we continue like this. This can have serious health effects on our health. For example, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has expressed their concerns over infectious diseases. Especially in tropical regions, increased temperatures increase mosquito populations, which escalates the risk of malaria, dengue, and other mosquito-borne infections, which therefore increases deaths, and often places a burden on developing countries who are typically more severely affected by these illnesses. In 2006, the UK suffered an outbreak of legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia, that scientists attribute to global warming. Furthermore, we all understand how uncomfortable the heatwaves during summer are. Scientists predict that global warming will exacerbate these heatwaves, which can have fatal consequences on our health, such as effects like heatstroke. Global warming also results in droughts, particularly in Africa, which worsens living conditions and creates grave losses of agricultural productivity. Currently, 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live in areas with severe drought. They face food and water shortages. It can also pose a threat to national security because agricultural losses can lead to resource conflicts. To conclude, it is evident that more needs to be done to stop climate change and air pollution. With COP26 coming up, we hope that these important issues are discussed by world leaders and that nations take responsibility to tackle this.

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