Climate change comes with warming temperatures, changes in precipitation, affecting the intensity and/or the frequency of several extreme weather events and rising sea levels. All of the above are considered a threat to our health, as climate change affects the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the weather we experience.
Additionally, how climate change affects each individual depends on a lot of factors such as age, gender, behavior, economic status, and the ability of public health authorities and the measures taken to prepare and combat these threats.
It is also an important factor where an individual lives and how exposed they are to climate change, how sensitive they are and who their community adapts to these changes. Developing countries are considered to be the most dangerous nowadays regarding climate change, but that doesn’t mean that wealthy nations like here in the United States are not at risk. In terms of population, at greater risk are children, pregnant women, elderly, and people with low incomes.
“We cannot address climate change without addressing the fundamental social determinants of health,” explains Linda Rudolph, MD, MPH, director of the Public Health Institute’s Center for Climate Change and Health in Oakland, CA. “These include factors like socioeconomic status, access to quality healthcare and education, a safe physical environment, employment opportunities, and social support networks.”
“Communities with access to resources for health and with strong social ties will be more resilient in the face of disasters,” he adds.
In this day and age, we have to deal with sea levels rising, glaciers melting and precipitation patterns changing. In addition, extreme weather conditions are becoming more intense and frequent.
According to experts, our summers are only going to get hotter and hotter, with record-breaking temperatures due mainly to climate change. On July 31, Britain recorded a 37.8°C temperature in Heathrow, while England broke the record as well, with 36°C recorded on August 7 in South East England. This is the highest registered temperature in 17 years in that area.
Dr. Michael Byrne, lecturer in earth and environmental sciences at the University of St Andrews, calls these two record-breaking temperatures “unusual” considering that they both happen at just one week’s time difference.
“But it’s not surprising given climate change is happening and accelerating,” he added. “Breaking temperature records year-on-year will absolutely keep happening unless we take drastic action against climate change, that’s a certainty.”
A recent report revealed by the Met Office published on July 31 regarding the UK’s climate, has shown that temperature has risen by 0.9°C in the last decade, compared to the 1961-1990 period. The report also showed that 2019 has been 1.1°C warmer than the period previously mentioned.
Additionally, the Earth’s surface temperature has risen by 1°C since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900). Even though 1°C might not sound like much, there is a huge amount of variation from region-to-region, Mr. Byrne explains.
“The land region has warmed substantially higher than 1°C,” he said. “We think in 50-100 years we’ll see 2-3°C of surface warming, with more over land and over the Arctic, which will present huge challenges and implications for people’s health.
“Parts of the Middle East won’t be habitable, which I find quite terrifying.”
Since 2002, the UK has registered its warmest temperatures ever recorded in the country, with the hottest day being recorded last year at 38.7°C in Cambridge Botanic Garden on 25 July, as a recent report from the Met Office shows.
2003 registered an extreme heatwave, causing nearly 15,000 deaths (mostly among the elderly) in France, and 2,000 deaths in the UK.
“For quite a long time we saw climate change coming, but it seemed an abstract concept,” Mr. Bryne said. “The last five years has hit home for me that it’s happening now, it can’t be ignored anymore.”
Ilan Kelman, professor of disasters and health at University College London, urges people that UK’s rising temperature isn’t normal and it will make it “highly dangerous” for people to go outside if proper measures aren’t taken to restrain climate change.
“These temperatures are unfortunately in line with the expectations for heat under climate change, which is one of the most concerning health impacts,” Kelman explained.
“Without stopping human-caused climate change, these levels of summer heat and humidity will become regular, making it highly dangerous for us to be outdoors and even indoors without continual cooling,” he continued.
“Air pollution can also worsen under heat with its knock-on health effects, such as for cancer and asthma.”