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Climate change may seem like an abstract and distant threat, but it is already claiming lives. Unless we, the dominant species of our planet, make radical changes very soon, the health effects of climate change could be killing many millions annually.

The average temperature on Earth has risen by 1.5°F (0.85°C) over the last hundred years, and is set to go up by an additional 0.5 to 8.6°F over the next century. Climate change is, despite the deniers' loud cries, all too real, something the news reminds you of on a near-daily basis. We all know that this isn't good — but what could it mean for the health of Earth's population in general, and what could it mean for your own health, your children's, and your grandchildren's? 

A lot, as it happens. 

The Impact Of Extreme Weather Events

As the climate is changing, we're seeing more and more extreme weather — one of the most directly noticeable impacts of climate change in today's world. When looked at in isolation, these events may appear to be nothing more than bad luck, but try to see the big picture, and you're in for a shock. More and worse wildfires in Australia, drought in Russia, floods in Pakistan, a typhoon in the Philippines... and that's only the start.

According to the World Health Organization, "the number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s" on a worldwide scale, with over 60,000 people dying from such extreme weather events every single year, primarily in poorer developing nations. 

Immediate death and injury is one of the most apparent consequences of this increase in extreme weather events. However, as sea levels and temperatures continue to rise, the long-term looks even bleaker. Whole areas may become uninhabitable — island nations in Oceania may be submerged completely, with other areas being struck as well, it may no longer be possible to produce crops in areas suffering severe drought, and severe air pollution could be forcing people to leave badly affected cities.

Malnutrition and a lack of access to food currently costs a grand total of 3.1 million people their lives every single year, and that figure can only rise as farming becomes more challenging in dry areas or flooded areas. Heavy rainfall can additionally compromise the accessibility of safe drinking water, leading to outbreaks of diarrhea, which, as unbelievable as it may sound to people in developed countries, currently kills 760,000 children under five on an annual basis.

Mass migrations as the result of extreme weather will inevitably result in a struggle to maintain basic hygiene, creating an environment in which viral and bacterial infections thrive. It can also lead to political tensions that ultimately result in war and more death. 

How Climate Change Affects Your Cardiovascular And Respiratory Health

The WHO points out that extremely high temperatures contribute to cardiovascular and respiratory condition-related deaths, noting that during "the heat wave of summer 2003 in Europe for example, more than 70,000 excess deaths were recorded". The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, too, note that many cities in the United States have seen significant increases in heat-related deaths, mainly from:

  • Heat stroke and related conditions
  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Respiratory disease (including asthma)
  • Cerebrovascular disease

CO2 emissions contribute to air pollution directly, that much is obvious, but rising temperatures are also responsible for a boost in ozone levels, a higher concentration of dust particles in drier areas, and — an increase in pollen. What? Pollen?

As temperatures rise, it's hardly a surprise that the trees and grasses that plague so many people enter their growing season earlier, and also that it lasts longer. Furthermore, research reveals that pollen activity goes up by as much as 60 percent when CO2 emissions are doubled.

This means that people who already suffer from pollen allergies will suffer more, but also that we'll see more allergies in future. The world is becoming a place where we'll see much more asthma — a disease that already currently affects a grand total of 300 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Exactly how much the prevalence of asthma will rise remains to be seen, with the World Health Organization not currently providing estimated numbers.

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