Climate Change Is Making You Sick

It’s pretty clear that climate change is having serious effects on our environment. Our world is growing warmer, more polluted, and more vulnerable every day.

Consider these facts from Conservation International:

  1. In 2016, the concentration of CO2 (one of the main greenhouse gases) in our atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, the highest total ever.
  2. 2016 was the warmest year on record, and the third year in a row with record-setting temperatures.
  3. 11 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans can be blamed on deforestation, which is the same amount as created by all the cars and trucks on the planet.

But what does that mean in regard to the health of people? According to a report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, man-made climate change is making Americans sicker. It’s causing an increase in deadly diseases, choking air pollution, and onslaughts of violent weather.

“Doctors in every part of our country see that climate change is making Americans sicker,” says Mona Sarfaty, MD, director of the Consortium and a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, in a statement. “Physicians are on the frontlines and see the impacts in exam rooms. What’s worse is that the harms are felt most by children, the elderly, Americans with low-income or chronic illnesses, and people in communities of color.”

The Consortium’s report, “Medical Alert! Climate Change is Harming Our Health,” combines research on the health impacts of climate change, physicians’ stories, and research-based evidence demonstrating the effects of greenhouse gases on human lives. It discusses the changes public health officials and doctors attribute to climate change, including an increase in heat-related illness, worsening chronic illnesses, more injuries and deaths from dangerous weather events, more infectious diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks, greater occurrence of illnesses from contaminated food and water, and an increase in mental health problems.

The Findings

Some of the report’s findings show that:

  • Less than a third (32 percent) of Americans can name a specific way in which climate change is harming our health.
  • 76 percent of doctors see an increase in air pollution related illnesses
  • 63 percent see an increase in allergy symptoms among their patients
  • 57 percent see more injuries due to severe weather events, like storms and floods
  • 45 percent see more heat-related illnesses
  • 40 percent see a rise in infections caused by mosquito and tick bites
  • 40 percent see an increase in mental health issues
  • 29 percent see an increase in diarrhea from food or water infections

In most cases, it is the youngest, oldest, and most vulnerable members of society, including the poor and disabled, who are at the greatest risk from all of the climate change-related ailments.

What We Can Do

The Consortium, which includes the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, Immunology, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among others, believes that the most effective way to reduce heat-trapping pollution is by reducing energy waste and accelerating the inevitable transition to clean renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.

The Consortium also encourages individuals to do their part to reduce emissions by walking or cycling instead of driving, adopting more plant-based diets, reducing energy consumption, and choosing clean energy, wherever feasible.

“Doctors agree with climate scientists: The sooner we take action, the more harm we can prevent, and the more we can protect the health of all Americans,” the Consortium says in its report.

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