The Relationship Between Climate Change and Health Issues
In the XXI century, the most vital international problem is the change of the global climate. The rapid increase in the overall dynamics of disasters observed in recent decades is of particular concern. Today, there is a significant risk of misunderstanding and underestimation of all the factors and the negative influence of various cosmic and geological processes on global climate change. Recently, at the end of the XX century, some scientists have put forward various hypotheses and theories related to gradual climate change. However, in practice, it turned out a little differently. Careful analysis of the increasing number of natural disasters, weather calamities around the world, as well as statistical indicators of space and geophysical parameters in recent years stand for a disturbing tendency of their significant increase in a short period of time. The suggestions that climate change on the Earth will be gradual are not true, because in fact, this process is much more dynamic.
Directly and indirectly, climate and weather significantly affect the lives of people from the tropics to the Arctic. Despite the fact that people get used to the conditions in which they live and human physiology perseveres considerable weather fluctuation, there exist certain limits (World Health Organization, 2005). Noticeable short-term fluctuations in meteorological conditions can have serious consequences for human health:
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Extreme heat and cold can cause such serious ailments as heat stroke or hypothermia, as well as increasing death rates as a result of respiratory and heart diseases.
The stagnation of the atmosphere encourages the flows of warm air and atmospheric pollutants in cities resulting in the formation of smog, which strongly affect human health.
The effects can be significant. In summer 2003, extremely high temperatures in Europe led to the fact that there were 35,000 deaths more than in the same period in previous years (Pellerin, 2008). Other extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rains, floods and hurricanes, also greatly affect health. In the 1990’s, there were approximately 600,000 deaths around the world due to weather-related natural disasters; about 95% of them took place in undeveloped countries. Here are some examples:
In October 1999, a cyclone in Orissa, India, killed 10,000 people. The total amount of affected people was estimated to be 10-15 million (Mirza, 2003).
In December 1999, due to flood in Caracas, Venezuela, approximately 30,000 people were killed; many of them lived in a slum on the open slopes.
Similarly to weather fluctuation, climatic conditions cause ailments transmissible via water and with mosquitoes. Diseases caused by climatic conditions are among the diseases being the major cause of death worldwide. As a result of the spread of diarrhea, malaria and protein-energy malnutrition in the world in 2002, there were killed more than 3.3 million people, while 29% of these deaths occurred in the African region (Patil & Deepa, 2007).
About two-thirds of solar energy reaching the Earth’s surface are absorbed by its surface and heat it. Heat is radiated into the atmosphere, where some part of it is trapped by greenhouse gases s.a. carbon dioxide. Without this “greenhouse effect” the average temperature of the planet would be unfit for human existence. Today, a sufficient number of well-known and little-known facts are accumulated; they show different variations on the planet that have occurred in a comparatively short period of time. These are the acceleration of the tectonic plates’ motion and the growth of activity rate. Moreover, aggravation of the global problems, which include seismic, volcanic, solar activity, changes in Earth’s magnetic field, the velocity of the Earth magnetic poles drift and the Earth’s axis offset should be taken into consideration. In addition, there are observed an increase in the surface temperature, the melting of permafrost and decrease of the ice sheet mass of land and the polar seas in terms of rising levels of seas and oceans and changes in river flow along with instances of severe weather calamities (droughts, floods, typhoons). There have been recorded numerous instances of changes that occur in the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere of the Earth.
For the past 50 years, sufficient quantities of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that affect the global climate have been released because of human activities, particularly because of the burning of fossil fuels,. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by more than 30% compared to its level before the Industrial Revolution, and it is trapping more heat in the lower atmosphere (World Health Organization, 2005).
As Pachauri and Reisinger (2007) stated in Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report, there are following consequences:
The global average surface temperature has increased by about 0,65 ° C.
Eleven years (from 1995 to 2006) are among the 12 warmest years compared to the climate of the 1850’s.
For the last decade, the warming and sea level rise rate has accelerated.
In many areas, especially in countries located in the middle and high latitudes, the amount of precipitations and frequency of heavy rains increased.
In specific areas, e.g. parts of Asia and Africa, drought has become more frequent and intense over the past decade.
Since the 1970’s, in some areas, such as the North Atlantic, a very strong tropical cyclone began to form with increasing frequency.
Global carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. Estimates of future population growth and energy consumption are used as inputs to global models of climate for predicting future climate change. By studying the results of a number of such models, IPCC made the following forecast for the following century (Pachauri & Reisinger, 2007):
The overall average superficial temperature will rise by 1,1° – 6,4°C, depending partly on future trends in energy use. Slight warming will be observed over land surface and at high latitudes.
Heat waves, significant rainfalls and other extreme conditions will become more frequent and intense.
It is expected that the sea level will continue to rapidly rise.
Many countries work on the question of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, despite these efforts, past and expected trends in development and energy use show that in the coming decades, the world has yet to go through significant changes in climate and sea level rise.
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Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health
People’s health depends significantly on safe drinking water, sufficient nutrition, secure shelter and good social conditions. Obviously, the climate change affects all of these aspects. Assessment of the possible consequences of climate change by the IPCC suggests that climate warming is likely to be beneficial in some areas (Pachauri & Reisinger, 2007). For example, it may lead to reduction of the number of deaths in winter and increase of food production in some areas, particularly at high latitudes.
Thanks to public health and high living standards, some nations will be protected from specific impacts. For example, it is unlikely that in northern Europe and North America climate change would cause malaria again. However, in general, the effects of rapid climate change on health are likely to be overwhelmingly negative, particularly among the poorest segments of the population, which have contributed to a lesser extent to the emissions of carbon dioxide. Climate change effects on human healthiness include:
Growing heat waves: recent analyses show that human-induced climate changes significantly increased the likelihood of heat waves in Europe in summer 2003 (Pachauri & Reisinger, 2007).
Climate change is thought to lead to increased concentrations of ozone, actively produced in cloudless sunny days. Ozone is a lung irritant affecting asthmatics and people with chronic respiratory diseases and heart diseases.
More variable precipitation patterns are likely to jeopardize the supply of freshwater, increasing the risk of diseases transmitted through water.Variable rainfalls and rising temperatures are likely to entail a reduction of the staple foods production in many poor areas increasing the risk of hunger. Sea levels’ rising increases the coastal flooding threat, which may lead to migration. Presently, more than half the world’s populace lives within 60 km from the sea. It is expected that global warming will increase the incidence of severe storms, including hurricanes, torrential rains and strong snowstorms. As a result, all of these phenomena will increase the risk of injuries and destruction of medical care institutions. They are especially dangerous for children.
Climate change is likely to lead to the fact that the transmission seasons of important vector-borne diseases will become more persistent, and their geographic range will change, which will encourage the spread of these diseases in areas that have no population immunity and/or a strong public health infrastructure. Global warming lengthens the seasons of transmission of vector-borne (those that are transmitted by carriers) diseases, expanding their geographic areas. In simple terms, tropical diseases may occur in areas where they have never been fixed. According to the WHO, dengue fever (its pathogen is spread by mosquitoes), may infect 2.5 billion people, and by 2080, due to climate change 4.5 billion people will be at risk of getting ill (World Health Organization, 2005).
Measurement of climate change effects on health is often approximate. However, according to quantitative estimates by WHO, taking into account a number of possible health effects due to climate changes that took place since the mid-1970’s, in 2000, over 150,000 deaths can be predicted (World Health Organization, 2005). In accordance with this evaluation, such an effect in the future will probably increase.
Currently, humanity is on the verge of ecological crisis, that is to say such a state of habitat that, as a result of changes, becomes unsuitable for human life. Expected crisis is man-made in its origin, as it leads to changes in the Earth’s biosphere related to the impact produced by people. During current century, climate change caused by global warming is likely to create a number of serious problems and dangers to health of the inhabitants of the planet. Rising global temperatures will cause food shortages, droughts, and wars over water supplies, food and land. Billions of people in the world will face problems of health deterioration, diseases, increasing poverty. The occurring climate change is a health related problem affecting the interests of billions of people; it is not just the problem of the environment, which is focused on the extinction of polar bears and deforestation. Warmer weather also imposes an increasing risk of the spread of diseases caused by bacteria and insects, including malaria and salmonella. The poorest countries will face the worst consequences of climate change. Due to flooding and drought, agriculture in developing countries becomes more risky and vulnerable. As a result of food shortages, food prices will go up. This will entail malnutrition and transmission of diseases. Because of such sequence of events, the chances of the beginning of the war for sources of water, food and land resources will increase, while the reasons for migration will be more serious.
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