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Climate change is one of the most fiercely debated scientific issues of the past 20 years. Although a steady contingent of global warming deniers have remained insistent that climate change does not pose a threat, there is an overwhelming consensus among the worldwide scientific community that our planet is undergoing significant, highly problematic shifts. Experts point to rising sea levels, record-breaking temperatures across the globe, declining air quality and erratic weather patterns as different manifestations of climate change. Today, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel are drawing attention to the negative effects on human health caused by an increasingly warm, more heavily polluted environment.
According to a 2009 article in Scientific American, a team of climate change researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that "global warming is [responsible] for some 150,000 deaths each year around the world"; they feared this number would double by the year 2030. Climate change fatalities are generally linked to four different catalysts:
This guide discusses all four of these factors at length. Our goal is to create a comprehensive health resource that will help you, your loved ones, and your community safeguard against diseases, conditions, and injuries stemming from climate change. Please read on for more information about the health-related effects of climate change.
In recent years, scientists have noted a rapid increase in average temperatures throughout the country. According to a report from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) titled 'Killer Summer Heat,' the average temperature of the United States could rise by as many as 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the 21st century. "The risks to public health are greatest when high temperatures mix with other weather conditions to cause what's known as an 'Excessive Heat Event,' or EHE," the report states. EHE days occur when the temperature, dew point temperature, cloud cover, wind speed and surface atmospheric pressure create conditions dangerous enough to cause heat-related deaths.
Most climate change experts agree that greenhouse gases ― which trap heat and prevent it from leaving the Earth's atmosphere ― are mostly responsible for the temperature spike. Even with a worldwide emphasis on reduced greenhouse emissions, temperatures continue to climb. An article in Science Daily recently noted that in March 2012 alone, more than 15,000 single-day warm temperature records were broken throughout the United States.
Previous EHEs (such as the massive heat wave that struck Southern California in 2006) have each been responsible for thousands of deaths and injuries; now, the NRDC projects that as many as 150,000 Americans will die due to climate change by the year 2100. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that elderly individuals, infants and chronically ill people are considered the most vulnerable for heat-related deaths. The most common causes of death related to rising temperatures include the following conditions:
In addition to the human toll, there is a significant financial impact to consider. 'Killer Summer Heat' discusses a heat wave that struck California in Summer 2006. Over the two-week period of extreme heat, 655 people lost their lives and more than 16,000 individuals made trips to the emergency room; the heatwave ultimately resulted in costs nearing $5.3 billion. The report notes that as many as 150,000 men, women and children could potentially die of heat-related causes by the year 2100.