Climate Change Effects on Human Health

Abstract

Climate change is a subject of various studies illustrating the negative effects of this phenomenon. The analysis of academic articles and the survey emphasize the importance of program and project development and other measures for the purpose of preventing the impacts of climate change on human health. The danger of climate change is considered to be a global issue. For this reason, global cooperation is required.

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Climate Effects on Human Health

Health as a general physical and psychological condition of an individual is influenced by environmental factors. Climate change is one of the determining factors that have a negative impact on public health. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while climate change is a global issue, the overall impact of climate change differs across geographical regions and populations (CDC, 2015). According to research, some health problems include respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, injuries, and even premature death caused by extreme weather changes (CDC, 2015).

For the purpose of discussing the problem, the key notion, namely climate change, needs to be defined. The project developed by CDC entitled “Adaptation in Action: Grantee Success Stories from CDC’s Climate and Health Program” explains the term “climate change” as follows: “any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time” (2015, p. i). Thus, the term implies changes in temperature, wind patterns, precipitation, or other weather-related changes.

About the Effect of Weather on Human Behavior

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Literature Review

Climate change and its effects (heat waves, extreme temperatures, changed rainfall patterns, sea-level rise, storms, etc.) are associated with a number of risks to public health. These risks may be direct and indirect and continue to be analyzed by scientists and leading medical journals.

  1. Blando, J., Bielory, L., Nguyen, V., Diaz, R., & Jeng, H. A. (2012). Anthropogenic climate change and allergic diseases. Atmosphere, 2, 200-212.

The authors of the article under consideration specify allergic agents caused by climate change. The article describes how climate change influences public health through allergens, which results in the development of allergic diseases all around the world.

Climate change has a negative impact on people with allergic disorders. Climate change influences allergic diseases by initiating several mechanisms. For example, it prolongs the pollen season and increases the duration of exposure to various agents such as weed pollens, trees, flowers, and grass. It also increases the duration and severity of allergy symptoms, including sneezing, watery eyes, nasal blockage, itchy throat, wheezing, etc. The authors of the article claim that climate change “may result in ecosystems with more allergenic plant species” (Blando, Bielory, Nguyen, Diaz, & Jeng, 2002, p. 202).

Climate change widens the ecological range of allergic plants. This phenomenon is associated with an increase in asthma prevalence. It is also stated that allergic rhinitis, for instance, “appears to be increasing in the United States and globally with the prevalence increasing from 10 to 30%, coincident with climate changes” over the past half a century (Blando et al., 2002, p. 207). Apart from changes in the intensity and duration of pollen seasons, allergic disorders are related to changes in the allergen content of plants and their pollen. In such conditions, people develop other disorders like allergic conjunctivitis and anaphylaxis more frequently.

In their study, Blando et al. (2002) discuss climate effects on human health in relation to the increase of allergenic disorders. Climate change is directly related to the development of severe symptoms and longer periods of their duration. Thus, it is advisable for public health professionals to plan measures that could help prevent the danger of allergies and improve the general health situation.

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  1. Bennett, H., Metcalfe, S., & Jones, R. (n.d.). Climate change and human health. OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council.

The article focuses on the major health impacts of climate change of the past and determines possible future issues. Climate change is recognized by the authors as a serious threat to public health. It is noted in the paper that climate change is one of the reasons why some diseases and disabilities continue to spread, and the number of deaths increases on a global level.

The authors present a prognosis according to which health problems will be more complicated over the coming decades. It has been calculated that climate change is the reason for 400,000 deaths per year as a result of heat illnesses, malnutrition, diarrhoeal infections, and other consequences with a threat of further substantial increase of health disasters by 2030 (Bennett, Metcalfe, & Jones, n.d., p. 1). Every country is vulnerable to climate change suffering from it. However, the impacts of climate change depend on the population groups that may differ by age, socioeconomic and health circumstances, and ethnicity.

On the example of New Zealand, authors have made a prognosis for approximately 40 years to illustrate the effects of climate change. Among the most severe factors are mental health problems and increased number of suicides, illnesses, and deaths related to the heat, diseases transmitted by insects (mosquito-borne diseases), negative impacts of ultraviolet radiation, heart and lung diseases caused by air pollution, and other issues. The scenario described in the article suggests that some changes in public health service and new programs are needed in order to deal with the effects mentioned above.

  1. Doherty, J. T., & Clayton, S. (2011). The psychological impacts of global climate change. American Psychologist, 66 (4), 265-276.

Climate change has a wide spectrum of effects on human health. The article is focused on psychological impacts. It is stated that such global change as climate variations has a serious psychological impact. The authors argue that the psychological effects of climate change are dangerous.

The article describes three types of psychological effects: direct (traumatic as a result of a changing environment), indirect (related to threats to emotional health that appears when a person is concerned about the future), and psychosocial (effects of heat, migrations, climate-related conflicts, etc.). Some threats associated with climate change are related to all communities including those individuals who do not directly experience the impacts.

Thus, it is necessary to provide psychological interventions and make efforts to reduce the severity of psychological effects. In case of a direct impact of climate change, psychologists can use interventions developed by disaster psychologists to evaluate responses to natural disasters. To address the indirect effects, individual and group interventions can be provided to promote dialogue and emotional expression. Psychological effects increase conflicts and that is why “psychologists can help in promoting an understanding and response” (Doherty & Clayton, 2011, p. 272).

Doherty and Clayton believe that psychologists have an ethical responsibility to take measures and reduce the psychological damage caused by climate change. There are steps that should be taken in order to help people deal with the matter of global climate change. Further research should be conducted to develop effective practice.

 
  1. Fuhrmann, C. (2010). The effects of weather and climate on the seasonality of influenza: What we know and what we need to know. Geography Compass, 4 (7), 718-730.

The article discusses the connection between climate change and the spreading of such a respiratory infection as influenza (commonly known as flu). Despite the fact that there are studies that discuss the seasonality of influenza, scientists lack definite information that would explain what provokes epidemics in temperate regions during the wintertime.

Influenza is considered to be a deadly infection that causes approximately “22,000 deaths and over 3 million hospitalizations in the USA” every year (Fuhrmann, 2010, p. 718). Methodologies study climate change and weather variations. The data presented by them helps to discover to what extent public health is affected by climate change. The analysis of a connection between influenza development and atmospheric conditions can explain whether the virus under consideration influences people more due to climate change. The author suggests that if climate change has an impact on the epidemiology of influenza then some action should be taken to tackle the problem. The virus is known to cause mortality and can affect half of the world population (for example, “Spanish Flu” of the past).

The information on the relation between weather conditions and influenza needs to be provided to raise awareness among people about the virus and find methods of its prevention. The growing concern connected to weather changes in different seasons and unpredictable climate patterns is a question of global importance. The complex nature of the virus makes it harder to study all the aspects of this infection. The author underlines the importance of the cross-disciplinary collaboration that may provide a possibility of preventing the spreading of the infection.

  1. Caminadea, C., Kovatsc, S., Rocklovd, J., Tompkinse, M., Morseb, P. A., Colin-Gonzaleze, J. F., … Lloydc, J. S. (2014). Impact of climate change on global malaria distribution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (9), 3286–3291. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1302089111.

Climate change is a problem related to various diseases and, in some cases, may be a contributing factor to the spreading of disorders. The authors of the article consider malaria to be a globally transmitted disease. Malaria is a significant health issue that appears to be a health burden because of its relation to climate change.

Malaria is known to have limits of transmission but climate change decreases the capability to control it so that malaria spreads even further. According to the official data, malaria occurs mostly in Africa and, as of the year 2010, most malaria fatalities (91%) happened in Africa (Caminadea et al., 2014, p. 3286). The article estimates the effect of climate change and possible scenarios for the malaria population on a global level. The results of the research show that Africa, southeastern Asia, and some parts of South America are under a threat of malarial transmission because of the influence of climate change and the existence of weather conditions in which malaria may be developed.

On the basis of past studies, Caminadea and other scientists concluded that climate change affects the malaria population. For the purpose of controlling the disease, new programs need to be designed.

The analyzed articles illustrate that climate change is a global issue that involves serious health problems, and, for the purpose of this study, we will focus on describing the health effects of climate change and the ways of managing them.

Relying on the primary sources, it may be concluded that climate change increases the number of problems connected to human health. Thus, we believe that climate change effects are a global matter that requires efficient solutions to be developed because it affects physical, psychological, and ethical matters.

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Data Collection Instruments

Among the main methods that are used to study the question of climate change, a survey more clearly demonstrates the current situation and the level of the public concerned. For this reason, we asked 25 people that are 18-25 years old a set of questions (see in the Appendix) related to their experience and knowledge on climate change. The purpose of the survey is to find out what people think about climate change, explore the most common patterns of behavior, and describe the perceptions of climate change by the general public.

The questionnaire was designed on the basis of the information given by the authors of the primary articles. We used the most common diseases caused by climate change to explore the problem. Questions were developed to demonstrate the existing connection between, for instance, seasonable weather change and health issues. The survey also helps to identify the individuals and locations that are most vulnerable to climate change effects. It also helps to estimate the magnitude of consequences of the diseases (morbidity and mortality), and develop certain measures to help people adapt and prepare for these effects.

It should be noted that quantitative and qualitative approaches are not enough for a report to be completed. More data collection instruments are suggested by the CDC. To achieve better results, a few health departments have to cooperate with one another. The CDC and its partners’ response to some of the potential public health effects of climate change is described in the climate and health program entitled “Adaptation in Action: Grantee Success Stories from CDC’s Climate and Health Program”.

The principle of work lies in the engagement of initiative teams. It is through these initiatives that the CDC is able to carry out a number of activities to prepare for and build resilience against the kinds of events connected to climate change. CDC guides human health workforces with the help of a unique framework known as BRACE that stands for Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (CDC, 2015). BRACE allows successful planning and development of measures against climate change effects. Response activities are designed after the completion of five steps. The steps of BRACE are as follows:

  1. Forecast. The first step is grounded on making a prognosis about climate effects and evaluating vulnerabilities. The most likely climate impacts were discussed in the literature review above. Therefore, we may conclude that allergic diseases, psychological impacts, global malaria transmission, and even influenza are the health outcomes of climate change.
  2. Projecting the disease burden. The second step implies the application of additional studies that would be used to illustrate the future spreading of disorders. These studies are used in the decision-making process and the planning of preventive measures.
  3. Development of public health interventions. The step includes an assessment of the possible health interventions that may be used to address the effects of climate change.
  4. Planning. A plan should be designed to deal with gaps in public health services. The plan is implemented as an activity that is intended for helping people to adapt to climate change.
  5. Evaluation of the impacts. The collected information allows for improving the quality of adaptation measures.

The BRACE framework is based on the gathered information ensuring an effective response to the dangers of climate change.

The Analysis of Climate Change Effects on Human Health

The analysis of the survey shows that most people between the ages of 18-25 years are aware of climate change and its impacts. They associate the term “climate change” with extreme temperatures, floods, storms, and heatwaves. Respondents and their family members also experience negative effects, such as allergies.

In an effort to expand the topic and explain the effects of climate change mentioned in the survey, we have brought together the main issues:

  1. Psychological problems with the possibility of suicides

The level of stress that people experience is increased due to climate change. For instance, it is difficult for farmers to deal with the problem of a poor crop. They may suffer from depressions. Young people are anxious about the consequences of climate change that may lead to catastrophes (storms, floods, drought, and others).

  1. Traumas and various injuries caused by weather-related events

Direct and indirect health effects that are experienced after such events as infections, storms, drought, etc.

  1. Disorders and deaths related to extreme temperatures and heat

People who suffer from chronic illnesses and those individuals who are older than 65 years are vulnerable to heat and their organism may not be able to cope with such pressure.

  1. Climate change increases the number of diseases transmitted by insects

This issue is related to mosquitoes and the disorders that they are developed as a result (for example, dengue fever). Climate change also affects the spread of zoonotic diseases (infections that are naturally transmitted from animals to humans).

  1. Diseases caused by pathogens in food and water

It has been discovered that “heavy rainfall can lead to contamination of drinking and recreational water/shellfish with fecal (poo) pathogens from animals and humans” (Bennett et al., n. d., p.2). Scientists claim that temperature increase facilitates the spreading of dangerous diseases (for instance, salmonella).

  1. Ultraviolet radiation

Ozone is also affected by climate change. Warmer temperatures result in the exposure of the Earth to ultraviolet radiation produced by the Sun. This radiation may cause disorders, including skin cancer, decreased level of vitamin D, eye diseases, and other issues.

  1. Health is also affected by the time period during which a person stays indoors without physical activities that are hard to perform due to the heat.
  2. Air pollution as a cause of cardio-respiratory diseases. Climate change increases air pollution that may cause heart and lung diseases.
  3. Climate complicates the condition of people with allergic diseases, including asthma (as discussed above).

This is not a complete list of effects. However, this is more than enough to see that climate change has specific effects on human health. The analyzed literature suggests that these and other climate change effects on human health are related to ethical issues. We will discuss the ethical questions below.

Ethical Issues

Climate change is not left without attention. Certain climate policies are applied all over the world. This question is a part of ethical issues suggesting that it is the responsibility of people to take measures and reduce the effects caused by climate change.

The ethical obligation is based on the fact that climate change is a global issue that involves everyone. Governments should unite efforts with private sectors, social agencies, financial sectors, and scientists in order to develop climate policies. Human health depends on the cooperation of different organizations that should make efforts to minimize the effects of climate change.

In the article “Why Human Health and Health Ethics Must Be Central to Climate Change Deliberations”, Jerome Amir Singh (2012) describes a set of ethical principles proposed by different scientists to develop activities that can help to manage climate change effects. It is underlined that authorities have a responsibility to act accordingly in cases of danger to human well-being and ecological problems.

Natural resources have to be protected to ensure the future of global societies. This responsibility is based on respect for all people. Governments, financial institutions, and other authorities should act to protect future generations from the effects of climate change. There is an ethical obligation not to harm others “in relation to initiatives that could have an impact on climate change and human health” (Singh, 2012). Initiatives should deal with benefits and risk factors of every possible action directed towards minimization of climate change effects.

This analysis should be reasonable and relevant to avoid further complications. All the evidence, principles, and values should be taken into consideration. The major goal is to work with other communities and evaluate every negative impact that endangers people. All the projects developed during the process of collaboration should be aimed at reducing impacts of climate change with the use of “feasible alternatives that are less adverse to human health” (Singh, 2012).

Ethics is “a core and necessary element of any debate about climate change and its challenges” (COMEST, 2010, p. 38). Ethical issues should be taken into consideration while dealing with the health effects of climate change.

Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change

Every primary source emphasizes the need to develop ways of coping with the effects of climate change. The authors also underline the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration. It is because there are recorded more than 400,000 deaths per year as a result of the heat effect and other illnesses, and the prognosis of a further substantial increase of health disasters by 2030 shows that the problem of climate change has to be solved (Bennett et al., n.d., p. 1).

The information about the solutions to climate change is available on the Internet, including the official website of NASA. There are two approaches that may be used to respond to climate change and its effects. The first approach is mitigation. It is built upon reducing emissions. This measure should result in a more stabilized level of heat in the atmosphere. The second approach is focused on adaptation to climate change.

Mitigation involves dealing with climate change by reducing the emission of gases into the atmosphere. This may be achieved through reducing the active sources of gases or “enhancing the “sinks” that accumulate and store these gases (such as the oceans, forests, and soil)” (NASA, n.d.). Mitigation allows preventing human interference and stabilizing the level of gases. Adaptation helps people to adjust to climate changes. The goal of this approach is to increase resistance to the harmful effects of climate change.

One of the challenges that these methods present is the elimination of gases that people burn (natural gas, coal, and oil). To achieve this, some alternatives may be used instead. These are wind power generators, biodiesel, plastic made of plants, etc. In addition to this, people are advised to stop using cars. Obviously, it is not happing.

However, various programs are developed to involve people in physical activities and replace driving by walking (when it is possible). It is also a good idea to decrease the level of consumption of products that are burned afterward. Apart from these actions, various organizations promote planting trees and protecting the natural environment. Health professionals may help to cope with the consequences of climate change, for instance, by informing people about the dangers.

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The problem of climate change is a global issue and dealing with it cannot be based on individual actions of a few people. All communities should agree upon the need to manage climate change and develop projects that would be effective and ethical. This is how the physical and psychological effects of climate change may be managed.

Conclusion

Climate change has a wide spectrum of effects on human health. It influences public health by affecting the condition of patients with allergies, the transmission of malaria, the development of influenza, and psychological states. All these factors increase the death rate on a global scale. A prognosis made by scientists shows that these effects will aggravate in the future.

It is not enough just to monitor the impacts of climate change. Governments, financial institutions, and other authorities have an ethical obligation to act and prevent health effects whether by means of adaptation or mitigation. The survey shows that people understand the crucial need to respond to climate change as soon as possible and are informed about the possible solutions.

The climate policies are developed on the basis of the information provided by scientists regarding the risks of climate change. If societies take this information into consideration and apply measures on the basis of the BRACE framework, or any other approach, the future generations will be secured from the negative climate change effects on human health.

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