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Climate change is associated with many daunting threats to our planet and way of life, including rising sea levels, severe weather patterns, food shortages and famines, and record-breaking fires. It’s also a clear and present threat to global public health, particularly for children, elderly, and pregnant people.
While we are only seeing a dose of what could come in terms of sea level increases and severe weather, the medical community says that the impact of the climate crisis on public health is already here.
So many aspects of the climate have the potential to damage public health, from pollution to allergens to wildfires. New diseases, as well as an increase in ill mental health and stress-related disorders, will also impact the lives of billions of people. Are you already seeing the first signs in your own health or the health of people you know?
How Climate Change will Impact Public Health
The impact of climate change on the health of humans will take two roads. First, it will directly impact health by resulting in heat stroke and exhaustion but also aggravating underlying illnesses through heat stress. Respiratory illnesses will also become more prevalent, and deaths have already happened. In 2019, a London schoolgirl died of an asthma attack that was among the first to be directly linked to pollution.
Climate change and its effects could impact almost every area of healthcare delivery and will have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations. It will cause disruptions of care both due to the availability of supplies and threats from powerful hurricanes and unending wildfires. The impact on human health will mean healthcare utilization will skyrocket and cost could go up, both for public health systems and in currently private ones. (Though, public health systems could do far more to save lives and mitigate damage.)
All of this sounds grim, and unfortunately, the current project is that trying times do lay ahead. But education and preparation will be the key to survival.
Why Education Will Be Key to Survival
The importance of awareness of the impacts of climate change on public health cannot be understated both for the medical community and for people in general. As the effects of climate change grow worse, there will be far less time to react to what’s happening. Being proactive is the only way forward if we want to both stop the environment from reaching the tipping point and protect the most vulnerable people from the effects that are already here.
While the average person doesn’t need to deep dive into the science behind climate change or even public health, everyone should at least:
Understand the fundamentals.
Be familiar with climate policies.
Learn about the changes needed.
Identify impacted areas of their lives.
Engage with deniers productively.
Some of these principles are static, such as the fundamentals of climate science. But some will be more dynamic, particularly as technologies change or populations shift.
One of the ways everyone can support climate education is by paying for quality journalism and publications that prioritize climate reporting. By giving them financial support when you can, you’ll ensure that they continue to provide up-to-date information to the masses. More education is better.
What Individuals Can Do to Respond Right Now
Unfortunately, the average person has a small carbon footprint, and what’s truly needed to stop climate change from reaching a breaking point is big, structural change. At the same time, participating in activities and behaviors that improve the environment is a must both to make your local area a nicer place to live but also to provide a feeling of relative control over your life. Education will help everyone identify and prioritize the most important activities, but it’s important to find ways to help that work for your lifestyle and budget.
Ridesharing will become even more important in future years, but not the kind of Uber and Lyft ridesharing choking up urban streets now. Instead, you’ll want to learn how to organize trips so that you can carry as many people as possible. Ideally, cities without useful public transport will also organize to ensure that they have access to a viable transport system and cycling infrastructure, which will take more cars off the roads. Not only will it save money in the long run, but it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the air in your area cleaner.
Learning to buy less will also be a challenge. Living in a consumerist society generates a huge amount of both emissions and waste. Although it’s difficult to avoid giving in to the temptations of fast fashion and an endlessly available number of gadgets and electronics, doing so can help mitigate the effects of climate change by showing companies that there is such a thing as ‘too much stuff.’ If you do buy, it’s helpful to choose products made sustainability and with a small carbon footprint. For example, the Fairphone is a green mobile phone that promises responsibly sourced materials and a DIY-repairable design so you don’t need to throw it away in two years. Recycling as much as possible, especially large electronics like televisions, will also help reduce waste and protect the local environment.