Environment and public health
Hitaishi Thakkar, Terna Medical College
Nishita Bujala, Kamineni Institute of Medical Sciences
Someone in California suffocated on the fumes from a raging forest fire. Someone in Mumbai lost his family in a flash flood. The Japanese faced yet another earthquake. The African dessert recorded the highest temperature making history. Major polar ice caps disappeared overnight in Antarctica. New York blurred amidst a dense smog while another volcano erupted in Hawaii. Whilst most of us chose to stay silent, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden roared, “ How dare you?” and took the world by storm. That lead to a series of global climate strikes, Fridays for the future, and what many newspapers called the ‘Greta effect’. What exactly is the “very happy young girl with a bright and wonderful future” as phrased by Donald Trump, fighting for? What is the urgent climate crisis? How does it affect us?
While we may ponder over the frequency of these natural calamities, the answer lies beneath our noses.
According to CDC, climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from air pollution, allergens, diseases carried by vectors, food and waterborne diseases, floods, and wildfires. Climate change presents a global public health problem, with health impacts predicted to manifest in varying ways, in different parts of the world. What better to fit the perfect example for this than COVID 19, a disease that showed even first-world countries how fragile our system is.
As we move towards the new era of public health, which we could refer to as the ‘post-pandemic era’ we are confronted with the dystopian reality, the impending doom- will the wrath of climate change end our world?
When we think about the aspects of public health, it comes to light that the fuel for the human body – food is directly affected by the weather conditions around us. Untimely rainfall can cause absolute destruction of all the crops and our farms, which could cause a severe food shortage, followed by malnutrition and global hunger. On the other hand, low rainfall could cause all the trees and crops to wilt and lead to famine and a water shortage. It has been notably seen that the global temperature has risen by 2.5 degrees Celsius in the last few years, which has been the highest rise in the century so far.
This heatwave has melted ice caps in the frigid zone which can cause the rise in sea levels and an array of vector-borne diseases.
While we are progressing into our industrial world, we are releasing pollutants in the air causing ozone depletion, exposing us to UV rays directly. UV rays can cause deleterious changes in the human genome leaving us vulnerable to the rising sun rays. These rays upon exposure can cause diseases like cataracts, melanoma, and other types of carcinomas.
Mental health and stress-related disorders due to extreme climate change seem impossible but hear this out it’s a phenomenon known as ‘common reactions to abnormal events’ or what we could simply call PTSD. Research demonstrated high levels of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder among people affected by Hurricane Katrina and similar observations have followed floods and heatwaves. Some patients with mental illness are more susceptible to heat and suicide rates vary with weather and rising high temperatures suggesting a potential impact of climate on depression (ever heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder?)
Right now we’re facing a man-made disaster on a global scale which is our greatest threat in thousands of years. Are we still of the notion that this is normal? Why are we not talking about it? People need to stop financing the denial of climate change. Climate change is no longer a trivial discussion but a major public health concern that needs to be urgently addressed.
So how do we battle the ongoing climate emergency for a public health impact? The current health problems are many, diverting precious efforts and money that could help prevent them in the first place. Effective communication is the fundamental part of prevention. Everybody is aware of the health risks of smoking, but not so for climate change. Monitoring, early warning systems, and land-use changes that reduce the impact of heat and floods can help expect climate change among vulnerable populations.
In the next few decades, another pandemic may hit, a hurricane might wipe out an entire country, earthquakes and wildfires may disrupt the already stretched-out ecosystem causing a global humanitarian crisis. The climate is changing and it’s no longer a far-off problem, it’s happening here and it’s happening now! When the future generations look at the elders for help or confront us at the next UN summit I hope we don’t hang our heads in shame or stay ignorant. The future is here. And they are watching.
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