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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.

Vector-spread disease, so through mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and the like, rises with climate change. The CDC points out that daily, seasonal and yearly climate variations can make vectors more adaptable and "hardier" — less easy to kill. In addition, as the world heats, diseases currently confined to warmer areas will have the chance to gain a foothold in areas where they are not currently present. Then, if climate change causes the predators of vectors that spread diseases to decline in number, vectors will thrive. As humans migrate in search of more livable conditions, these diseases will be transmitted more easily.

The WHO estimates that, with time, climate change will be responsible for an additional 60,000 deaths from malaria alone each year, while the CDC warns that vector-borne diseases like "chikungunya, Chagas disease, and Rift Valley fever viruses" now pose a threat to the US.

 

Water-borne diseases, too, will be able to thrive in a world with higher temperatures and sea levels.

Heavy rainfall can make maintaining sewage systems in a hygienic manner much more of a challenge, contributing to the spread of infectious diseases. Higher temperatures, meanwhile, create an environment in which the micro-organisms that lead to disease thrive. Diseases spread through drinking water, water used for washing, and water used for recreational purposes include Schistosomaisis, Giardiasis, Cholera and Typhoid. Consequences range from diarrhea, to different cancers, and respiratory diseases. All can be deadly.

Droughts can contribute to the spread of infection by creating higher concentrations of pathogens inside water treatment plants, whole even pathogens previously locked inside the now melting Polar ice caps pose a threat.

And There's More...

Exposure to increased air pollution causes lung cancer rates to rise, while being exposed to more UV rays as the ozone layer disappears will create a rise in skin cancer cases. Skin cancer rates have doubled every seven to eight years over the last four decades, a trend that is set to continue. Environmental factors including malnutrition and exposure to chemicals and toxins is also known to play a role in neurological disorders including Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease. 

If that sounds like a pessimistic prognosis for the future of humanity, that's because it is. Barack Obama has reminded people that "no challenge poses a greater threat to our future than a changing climate" and that "we’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it". 

Along with the threat of antibiotics no longer being effective in the very near future, climate change is the global health issue of our time. While there isn't much any of us can individually do to prevent catastrophe, humans can be pretty miraculous when they pool their collective knowledge, wisdom and creativity.

It's time to stop sticking our heads in the sand. It's time to recognize that, while we may not fall prey to the terrible consequences of climate change ourselves, future generations will. The solution begins with the universal recognition that climate change will soon affect each and every one of us in ways far more invasive than spring whether in the middle of the winter. 

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