Thilaka Ravi, "Health Effects of Global Warming," MedIndia.net, n.d. Copyright © by MedIndia.com/MedIndia.net/MedIndia.org. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.
Thilaka Ravi is a reporter for MedIndia.net, an India-based website that provides essential health-related information to health-care consumers and medical professionals.
The world is spinning in a vicious cycle of demand and supply that is both the cause and effect of global warming. If the situation continues, health hazards will increase.
Global warming is all about adverse climate change caused by the trapping of greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide) in the earth's atmosphere that affects biodiversity and poses a serious health hazard. Countermeasures to facilitate living in hotter temperatures like air-conditioning and refrigeration will unfortunately consume more electricity from power plants that burn coal, releasing carbon dioxide. This will further spike global warming and have a seriously damaging influence on human health.
Naturally occurring greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, ozone and nitrous oxide hold heat in the atmosphere creating a greenhouse effect and keep the earth warm enough to sustain life. Enhanced greenhouse effect or the abnormal increase of 'greenhouse gases' due to human activities like burning of solid waste; wood; fossil fuels like oil, natural gas and coal; deforestation and the release of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) from industrial processes cause more than normal heat to be trapped in the atmosphere and cause global warming.
Effects of Global Warming
Climatic changes triggered by global warming can bring in their wake extreme conditions like abnormal storms, drought and floods and can be of immediate threat to life [and health.]
Recent outbreaks of malaria, dengue fever ("breakbone" fever), Hanta virus and similar diseases in the West due to climate change are the consequences of global warming, according to some Harvard Medical School doctors. The incidence of kidney stones is likely to go up and so are many other conditions. The long-term serious consequence to human health is likely to threaten our very existence on this planet. Read some of the alarming facts related to it:
- Extreme temperatures caused by climate change can directly cause death, as in heat strokes—especially in the old and the young. Studies based on earlier heat wave events predict a 145% increase in deaths in New York.
- Adverse impact of climate stress on agriculture worldwide may add 300 million victims of malnutrition to the existing number.
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientists project that warmer climates will increase malaria-carrying mosquitoes and put 65% of the world's population at risk of malarial infection—an increase of 20% from the 1990s.
- Warm temperatures will aggravate air and water pollution and pose health hazards.
- Some researchers predict algal blooms could occur more often—especially in polluted sea waters—and cause infectious diseases like cholera.
If the globe continues to sizzle unchecked, extreme weather conditions will cause infectious diseases and death worldwide.
In brief, global warming can soon become a risk factor for heat strokes, cardiovascular and respiratory problems. People with an ailing heart are especially vulnerable because the cardiovascular system has to work harder to cool the body in very hot weather. A heat wave in July 1995 killed more than 700 people in the Chicago area alone.
High air temperatures increase the ozone concentration at ground level. The natural ozone layer in the upper atmosphere protects the earth from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation; but at ground level ozone becomes a harmful pollutant that damages lung tissue and aggravates asthma and other breathing diseases. Even in healthy individuals exposure to modest levels of ozone can cause nausea, chest pain and pulmonary congestion.
One school of scientists warn that if the globe continues to sizzle unchecked, extreme weather conditions will cause infectious diseases and death worldwide. However, there is another school of health experts who believe that global warming is a convenient scapegoat for putting the blame on increasing incidence of infectious diseases. They list other factors that are contributing to this increase that include:
- Increasing disregard for public health practices (even simple things like washing hands)
- Overcrowding of cities
- Rise in population of vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks—due to inadequate control measures
- Increased international travel by people that can take viruses across the hemisphere
- Genetic mutation in bacteria and viruses
Developed nations have the ability and infrastructure to quickly identify and take adequate measures to curb the problems that can result from global warming. Examples include emergency measures such as moving people suffering from heat-stroke to air-conditioned rooms and stringent action to reduce the emission of photochemical compounds that cause ground-level ozone. Developing and underdeveloped countries are seriously handicapped in these areas of infrastructure and failure to draft and implement stringent laws against factories for adding to pollution and global warming.
What Can Be Done as "Global Citizens"
As global citizens of this beautiful planet we need to take immediate steps to control global temperatures from reaching dangerously high levels. We can do our own bit by helping out, and some of the measures include:
- Using less fossil fuels and electricity—switch off lights, fans, air-conditioners, computers etc. when not required
- Buying energy-efficient products such as compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs
- Recycling paper, plastics and whatever we can
- Planting more trees
- Using solar heaters to heat water
- Harnessing alternate sources of "clean" energy—such as solar and wind energy—that do not emit carbon dioxide are some sure ways to reduce global warming
- Avoid wastage of food and water.