There has been a lot of debate in the US about health care reform. One would argue that more people in the US are talking about health care then the environment. Health care is indeed an important issue that must be addressed in the near future. However, I believe that climate change is just as important, if not more important then health care reform. In many ways climate change continues to suffer from the fact that many people perceive it to be a far off event that can be pushed to the bottom of the priority list while the country deals with other problems. This is the same type of thinking that has gotten us in to this miss in the first place! I think that people who are involved in environmental issues need to start presenting climate change not as a purely environmental issue, but rather as a survival and prosperity issue.
To do this we need to start highlighting more of the serious problems that will arise because of climate change. There are many problems to pick from, some examples are: health, economic, social, and political problems. I am going to go in detail about potential health issues that could result from climate change. I realize I am only scratching the surface but for the sake of convince I choose only to briefly cover one issue.
Climate Change and Public Health
Global warming poses a significant problem for world health. Already many nations cannot feed their people because of the changing climate. There are several clear examples of this in the already poverty stricken areas of Africa. The level of malnourishment is expected to rise higher as the climate continues to become more extreme. Malnourishment serves as a catalyst for diseases such as: HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis, and several parasites. Things are already bad and they can potentially get much worse if the world continues to allow a rise in emissions.
As people higher up on the social ladder in Africa begin to see these diseases spreading more widely through the population they are going to emigrate from their country to the more developed world. Chances are that a few of the people emigrating will be carrying a latent form of a disease. One person with TB has the potential to infect hundreds of people, who then have a chance to infect hundreds of people and so on. In recent years, TB has been seen more and more commonly in XDR-TB (extensively drug resistant tuberculosis). The potential of an outbreak of XDR-TB is a frightening prospect.
Another major health concern with global warming is access to clean fresh water. Already many places (Including in the US) have had water shortages because of the lack of rainfall and higher than normal temperatures. Obviously, water is of vital importance for any living organism. A major shortage of water could result in thousands of additional hospitalizations and deaths. This trend can only be expected to rise if nothing is done to curb emissions.
On the flip side of the coin climate change has also caused some extreme rainfall in certain parts of the world. The places hit are often poor areas that already have very limited access to medical care. These large amounts of standing water often wipe out crops and homes, further impoverishing people. In addition the large amounts of water often carry a variety of disease and parasites. Again, these diseases can spread very rapidly and cause a worldwide health crisis.
In addition to extreme droughts and extreme rainfall, we are also poisoning our bodies of freshwater. I am involved with the St. Louis Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force and I have witnessed firsthand the amount of resources and dedication needed to clean up contaminated water ways. I am paraphrasing my professor Dr. Michael Vickery when I say that the next major war will not be fought over oil. Rather, it will be fought over water. The population of the world keeps rising and along with it the need for fresh water rises. Yet, we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot by wasting and contaminating our natural resources.
The general consensus in the developed world is that we will innovate our way out of this problem. I agree that ultimately mankind will find a way to use science to solve the climate change problem. However, no one can say how far off that is. In the meantime we must be prepared to make small concessions for the sake of saving ourselves. It can be something as simple as taking a shorter shower (something I have started to do) or turning off lights when you leave a room. If you want to take it a step further you can write your congressperson and urge them to support sustainable projects.
I have only mentioned a very small percentage of potential health problems that will result from climate change. Keep in mind that there is many different problems that could result, both predictable and unpredictable. So next time someone tells you that climate change is not important, simply inform them that climate change is bad for their health.
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