Climate Corner: Is Climate Change Harming Our Health?

by Dave LaLuzerne

Climate change does not cause diseases, but the bad news is that global warming is increasing our exposure to many diseases and is already harming health around the globe.

The good news is that the actions we must take to stop further warming will not only save money, but they will also improve our health dramatically. When Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at UW-Madison, spoke to our Climate Change Coalition Forum in Sturgeon Bay several years ago, he said that setting climate change aside, if we shut down coal plants and reduce burning other fossil fuels to produce electricity, heat our homes and power our cars, the health benefits will far outweigh the cost. 

Since he spoke, the costs of nonpolluting solar and wind energy have decreased substantially, making the cost savings even greater.

Asthma, other lung diseases and heart disease will decrease as we eliminate invisible particulate pollution and smog and reduce nitric oxide and mercury pollution. Burning much less coal, oil and gas will substantially reduce both CO2 emissions that cause global warming and the incidence of costly and devastating illnesses. It’s a slam dunk. Look online at the comparison pictures of cities around the world before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ll see dramatically clearer air because of less driving and power production.

Similarly, we all know that eating less red meat and more organic fruits and vegetables will be beneficial to our health. We’ll feel better and significantly reduce methane and CO2 emissions from cattle and fertilizers. It’s a drop kick.

Now for the negative side. Here are just a few of the ways in which global warming is harming health.

Severe storms are causing storm-sewer overflows that back up into basements, grow molds and decrease air quality in our homes. Severe rainfall events pollute streams and groundwater with runoff that spreads waterborne illnesses.

Longer warm seasons increase allergies and pollen potency, aggravating lung diseases. Allergies cause 3.8 million hours of missed work and school, and asthma is responsible for nearly 2 million emergency department visits annually. These statistics will increase.

Ticks are moving north with warmer weather, and they’re bringing with them more Lyme disease. We see that in Door County.

But the news gets worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, North Americans are now at risk from other vector-borne diseases, including dengue fever, West Nile virus disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Other vector-borne pathogens that are not currently found in the United States – chikungunya, Chagas disease and Rift Valley fever viruses, for example – are future threats.

Severe droughts are causing food insecurity around the world and increasing malnutrition, starvation and threats of war over water. 

The likely effects of further warming on human health are frightening. The bottom line is that our changing climate is perilous to human health. Taking prompt action to stop it will make us healthier and wealthier. We must act quickly. Please!

Dave LaLuzerne is a member of the steering committee of the Climate Change Coalition of Door County, which is committed to educating people about the important concept that Earth care is health care. LaLuzerne is an herbalist and retired pharmacist who lives in Ellison Bay.

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