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Impact of Climate Change on Human Health Essay

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Recently, climate change and the impact it has on the mental and physical wellbeing of humans has become a prominent topic of discussion. This essay will detail how far climate change is negatively impacting human health across the world. I will illustrate how it is affecting a collection of areas of health; from respiratory disease and poor mental health to malnutrition. I will also provide judgement on the most significant effect climate change has with the support of a variety of sources. To begin, as climate change worsens, the health of the population does too.

Respiratory Impacts

Climate change is increasing level of pollutants in the atmosphere and rising temperatures across the globe. In 2014, it was found that 57 million Americans lived in areas that didn’t meet the US national air quality standards (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). Firstly, these changes deteriorate the health of people with pre-existing respiratory diseases by worsening conditions and symptoms. However, it can also cause these illnesses directly. Studies are ultimately showing a prediction in increased respiratory mortality (Joshi, M. et al., 2020).

Extreme heat has caused a large number of deaths by heightening pre-existing respiratory illnesses, particularly in the elderly (Shimizu, 2020). In Europe, the heatwave in the summer of 2003 caused 70,000 excess deaths (Shimizu, 2020), most of which were caused by cardiopulmonary issues (Amato. et al., 2014). With this being only one summer alone, the statistics are quite terrifying. Despite the elderly being particularly susceptible to the impact, it has also been found that children are being increasingly affected. An increase in respiratory illnesses in children during heatwaves has been measured (Amato. et al., 2014). These figures show that the respiratory impacts of global warming are not discriminatory against age anyone has a risk of being affected.

Increasing temperatures leads to an increase in pollutants in the atmosphere, such as ozone (Shimizu, 2020). Ground-level ozone (smog) and other pollutants aggravate existing respiratory conditions. It is estimated that premature deaths attributed to ozone-related illnesses will increase into the tens of thousands by 2030 (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017).

For example, ground level ozone damages lung tissue, inflames airways and decreases lung function (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). For example, the risk of developing COPD (a chronic disease where lungs become inflamed), increases with exposure to pollutants and fumes (Story, 2018). The pollutants from climate change increase the risk of diseases, like COPD.

For another example, 300 million people are affected by asthma, which can be triggered by ozone (Shimizu, 2020). The increase in severity of this disease can negatively affect health for a wide group of people. Asthma has proven to be fatal, with 10 people per million in the US dying directly because of the condition in 2016 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). However, despite increasing pollutants, the risk of death from asthma has been decreasing. In 2001, 15 people per million died as a result of asthma. But, in 2016, that number had decreased to 10 people per million (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014).

Overall, the increasing concentrations of pollutants and rising temperatures because of climate change, are causing a direct impact on the risk and death due to respiratory illness. As climate change worsens, so will the frequency and mortality respiratory related deaths. Desperate action is needed to reverse the pre-existing effects and prevent further developments.

Mental Health Impacts

Climate change has also been shown to negatively impact mental health. 48% of Americans hold the belief that climate change is already having a detrimental effect on people’s mental health (American Psychiatric Association, no date). Studies have shown that this particularly impacts women or those with a low income. These groups are 60% more likely to report mental health problems because of weather, that other categories of people (Gregory, 2018).

Firstly, as temperatures increase, traumatising extreme weather events become increasingly more common. Extreme weather evens have been shown to be a direct causes of mental health issues, for example: anxiety, depression, and suicide (National Geographic, no date). In the US, PTSD and anxiety levels were higher after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, with reports of poor mental health increasing by 4% (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021) (Gregory, 2018). Also, higher levels of depression, anxiety and PTSD has been recorded after floods and droughts (American Psychiatric Association, no date). Observations matching these have been seen after floods and heatwaves (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). These events can also lead to induced mobility. An estimated 22.5 million people are displaced from their homes annually. This consequence of climate change has been shown to directly impact mental health in a negative way (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2017).

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Along with causing mental illnesses, climate change induced weather events (particularly extreme heat) have been shown to cause a decline in pre-existing mental health conditions (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). A link between depression (and other mental illnesses) with increasing heat has been observed. This is because suicide rates increase with temperature (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021) (American Psychiatric Association, no date). Furthermore, physical implications due to mental illness (and their treatments) can be worsened with more extreme heat. For example, dementia has been identified as a risk factor for hospitalisation during heatwaves (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). Secondly, many severe mental illnesses (such as schizophrenia) that require medication can also interact poorly with high heat (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). Medication can interfere with the body’s temperature regulation symptoms. This inability to control a stable internal temperature can directly cause hyperthermia (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). Hyperthermia can have debilitating consequences: brain damage, confusion, further brain changes, and most severely, death (Stöppler, no date).

The mental impacts of climate change are being felt widespread across the globe. However, studies have shown that South Asia is a particularly high risk area because of common careers (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2017). Climate change can impact people’s means of work, particularly in the agricultural sector (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2017). Droughts (Uji, 2012) and other extreme weather events can cause an incapability to work (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2017). This therefore results in an inability for an individual to provide for themselves and their families, which can cause mounting levels of stress, worry and feelings of worthlessness – eventually developing into mental illness (e.g., depression). A particular example of the impacts of droughts has been shown in semi-arid regions of India. There has been a rise in suicide among poor male farmers because of droughts on several occasions (Uji, 2012). These correlations imply that, as climate change becomes increasingly impactful on environments, the inhabitants there will be more susceptible to suffering from a variety of devastating illness, that have the potential to have deathly consequences.

Extreme temperatures are also related to an increase in domestic violence (American Psychiatric Association, no date). Stress levels increase with climate change induced temperatures (Gregory, 2018). This leads to heightened levels of alcohol consumption as a means to cope, which can attribute to higher events of abuse (American Psychiatric Association, no date).

Whilst the direct effects of climate change on people’s lives are causing a growing number of mental health problems, an indirect wave of mental health conditions are being experienced. Due to the perceived threat of climate change, stress responses can be triggered, leading to poor mental health and mental illnesses (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017).

Overall, research has shown that as extreme weather causes devastating events, a subsequent decline in mental health and mental illnesses will be felt. Perhaps most worryingly, these non-communicable illnesses can occur regardless of where you live, socioeconomic background, gender, and a range of other factors. This means that no one is exempt from the possibility of these illnesses, some are just more susceptible than others. However, despite these worrying statistics, some researchers believe worse mental health may not persist into the future as humans accommodate themselves to changes, whether that is through physiological or technological means (Gregory, 2018). This predicts that these impacts are merely short term and will not affect us over a long period.

Waterborne Illnesses

As climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events and raises temperatures, a correlation has been found with the risk of being infected by a waterborne illness. These diseases come with possible dire consequences, varying from gastrointestinal illness (like diarrhoea), kidney and liver damage and effects on the nervous and respiratory systems of the body (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). It is estimated that between 2030 and 2050, 48,000 additional deaths will be caused by diarrhoea alone, because of climate change (Shimizu, 2020).

The risk of transmission of these diseases increases as rainfall, and therefore floods, become more frequent and extreme due to the changing climate (Shimizu, 2020). Floods contaminate drinking water sources and recreational water sites (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). Storm surges, which lead to floods and runoff, can also deteriorate, or exceed the cubage of water infrastructure (this includes drinking water and wastewater treatment plants) (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). Water treatment facilities can be damaged, which causes the distribution of poorly or untreated water to households (Safe Drinking Water Foundation, no date). This amplifies the risk of exposure to waterborne illnesses (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). The increasing variability of rainfall affecting fresh water supplies leads to diarrhoeal disease. For example, in Walkerton, Ontario, an outbreak of E. coli occurred after heavy precipitation. The ten-to-twenty millimetres of rainfall caused runoff, contaminating water supplies with infected animal waste (Safe Drinking Water Foundation, no date). Waterborne diseases because of heavy rainfall, devastatingly, kills 500,000 children under five years of age annually (Shimizu, 2020). These statistics highlight the gargantuan grief and death that is being caused by these diseases, because of the changing climate. These issues are particularly prevalent in children (Shimizu, 2020) in poor developing countries (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021) due to their weak infrastructure (Shimizu, 2020).

The likelihood of exposure to pathogens and toxins in water is also increased with temperatures (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). The higher temperatures mean it is possible for pathogens to inhabit water or seafood in different places or times than it usually would (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). Waterborne pathogen exposure causes diarrhoeal disease (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). This can lead to death by malnutrition and dehydration (World Health Organisation, 2017). Examples of waterborne diseases that have an increased risk of transmission in correlation to temperature include salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). Another example – a correlation between the presence and transmission of planktonic species that cause disease has been observed. This includes dinoflagellates, diatoms, and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) (Hunter, 2003).

Climate change is directly and indirectly causing the transmission of waterborne diseases, by increasing risk of transmission, and improving the conditions for the growth of toxins and pathogens. In summary, the altering of the regularity and intensity of precipitation due to climate change, and an increase in temperatures caused by greenhouse gases, increases the risk of waterborne illnesses (Environmental Protection Agency, 2017) which are killing numerous people every year.

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Impact of Climate Change on Human Health Essay. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
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