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Climate Change: The "Sick" Reality

Image Credit: Meta Newhouse

With the recent snow storms occurring in the American Midwest and the devastating wildfires in California, our current administration continues to disbelieve the scientific facts demonstrating the reality of climate change [1]. As a result, there has been a major rollback of environmental regulations and an absence of any climate action policy. Climate change deniers are fond of pointing out cold days as evidence that “global warming doesn’t exist.” However, there is a clear-cut difference between local weather and global climate. The world as a whole is warmer on average than it has been in recent history, and there is strong evidence that climate change poses a huge threat to life on earth as we know it. It is thought that climate change is driven by greenhouse gas emissions, which have a direct effect of human activity. This phenomenon clearly has an effect on the environment, with hazards ranging from species extinction to extreme weather events to ocean acidification. However, climate change also holds many consequences for human health—specifically, the spread of vector-borne disease.

Recent research has demonstrated the evolution of mosquitoes side-by-side with the rising pattern of the global climate. The study, from researchers at the University of York, the University of Bath, and China Agricultural University, displays the newfound influence that climate change is having on the rate at which mosquitoes diversify, and what this might mean for human health in the future [2]. Professor Matthew Wills, from the University of Bath, presents a case for his theory. He cites a common method that female mosquitoes use when they want to draw blood; they locate hosts by detecting exhaled CO2. Consequently, as levels of atmospheric CO2 rise, mosquitoes may not be able to distinguish between the CO2 from their hosts and those background levels, thus contributing to their diversification and the subsequent rise in insect-derived illnesses [2]. Although the study requires more work to confirm the correlation between climate change and mosquitoes, it showed that mosquito species are capable of evolving and adapting to climate change in high numbers. Unfortunately, with increased speciation comes a heightened risk of disease and the reappearance of certain diseases in countries that had eradicated them or never experienced them before.

Furthermore, a group of international health experts recently wrote a global assessment for The Lancet, a prominent medical journal. They verified the dangers to human health caused by heat waves and the spread of infectious diseases. These issues will especially affect vulnerable populations like elderly people in urban communities and the outdoor working class [3]. The dire health risks of climate change have also been acknowledged by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC declared that the U.S. has seen more frequent and longer-lasting heatwaves and a parallel rise in vector-borne disease, with cases of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus tripling between 2004 and 2016 [4]. The evidence for this spread of disease is supported by several similar statistics, such as the fact that the capacity of the dengue virus to spread has increased by 7.8% since the 1950s [4]. The facts cannot be ignored and action must be taken to reverse climate change and its detrimental effects on human health.

Some progress has been made. A large step that must be taken is the increase of renewable energy usage to cut down on CO2 emissions. A report estimates that jobs in the renewable energy sector have risen by 5.7% between 2016 and 2017 [4]. However, more dramatic changes have to be implemented. Although the government must take action to reduce the ailments that are caused by global warming, we as individuals are a powerful force that can try to lead a low-carbon lifestyle. Encourage yourself and others to always recycle when you can. Conserve water by taking shorter showers. Switch off lights when they are not needed. Use more public transportation. Try eating less meat. These tasks may seem miniscule, but we have the power to prevent climate change if we all work together to reduce our carbon footprint.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/climate/winter-cold-weather.html

[2] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181105105356.htm