I’m not sure whether we still carry on our adolescent-like disregard towards the extreme climatic patterns around the world. We have been warned of the increasing amount of greenhouse gases several times, and now the youngsters have taken the baton to fight for their existence. Despite the alarming evidence of the effects of global warming and the resultant climate change, adults took it up hesitatingly to the ‘top of their mind’. Maybe the belief that the impact would be distant in terms of both time and place may have resulted in this lagging approach of adults in grasping the gravity of the climate crisis.
Over the past two years, things worsened to the extent that they have reached a point of ‘no-denial’ of climate change, and various extreme events like floods, hurricanes, droughts, landslides, snowfall, and heat waves have all triggered mental and physical illnesses in different parts of the world. Let us see how it affects human health, both physically and psychologically, directly and indirectly.
Physical health and mental health have a mutual relationship. If there is a decline in one’s physical health, it tends to lead to the decline of one’s mental health too. Concerns over the uncertain future can lead to emotional imbalance. I have gone through various articles explaining the physical and environmental effects of climate change, and studies are still underway on the psychological impact it creates like depression and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, suicides and widespread outbreaks of violence. Let us see how climate change affects the psychological well-being of a person.
Global climate change will destabilise nations that are economically, politically, and environmentally fragile. Psychic injury results from the stress of displacement, loss of possessions, and uncertainty about interim and future housing, and employment. That physical distress arises due to higher temperature is known to us, but what is not known is the extent of psychological uneasiness due to the rise in temperature. I have seen children not able to concentrate while studying when summer approaches. For the time being, many houses and institutions have air conditioners, which again is a cause of rising temperatures as it releases greenhouse gas.
As per my understanding, global warming triggered climate change. ‘Heat illness’ has a long list of effects including vascular diseases, vector-borne diseases, epidemics, etc. It is important to know how the change is affecting human physiology.
Human thermoregulatory capacity exceeds its capacity in hotter conditions. People in regions hit by heatwaves experience dehydration, heatstroke and Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Vascular diseases are commonly triggered by a change in temperature. A sharp decline in temperature followed by a rapid rise in temperature results in erythromelalgia.
Vector-borne diseases are the next in line to be discussed. In epidemiology, a disease-vector is any agent which carries and transmits an infectious pathogen to another living organism. Extended rainy seasons or extended periods of drought allow the vectors to sustain for longer periods. Mosquito-borne diseases include malaria, elephantiasis, Rift Valley fever and dengue fever. As flooding creates more standing water, floodwaters act as a breeding place of mosquitoes. Another vector-borne disease is Lyme disease caused by ticks. When the weather gets warmer, there is a rise in pollen levels in the air resulting in Hay Fever. According to the World Health Organisation, the extreme temperature is directly related to certain ailments like cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases.
We all know the greenhouse emission comprises Nitrogen(N2), Water, Carbon dioxide(CO2), Carbon monoxide(CO), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Sulphur dioxide (SO2), Hydrocarbons (HC), Benzene (C6H6), Ozone(O3) and Particulate matter. Stratospheric ozone protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer and cataract. Ozone depletion has been a cry of the past and as per reports, the regulation of the use of Freon and chlorofluorocarbon has reduced the ozone-depletion to a great extent.
Whereas in the tropospheric ozone, in excess is a greenhouse gas and a pollutant formed by the reaction of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. CO2 is non-toxic but is an important greenhouse gas and leads to the acidification of the ocean. NOx contributes to acid rain. O3 is not directly emitted in the air, and a small amount of O3 does occur at the ground level. When the O3 level increases, it can damage lung tissue and cause asthma. It worsens existing diseases too as it damages the living cell.
CO results from incomplete combustion of fuel and it combines with hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin which reduces the blood’s capacity to transport oxygen and it is a serious condition. SO2 which is another greenhouse gas leads to acid erosion and corrosion. Hydrocarbons (HCs) are emitted as unburnt fuel and through evaporation react with NOx in sunlight to produce photochemical oxidants which cause breathing problems and increase symptoms of asthma. C6H6, if emitted, is toxic and is carcinogenic. And about particulate matters, they can cause respiratory complaints and cardiovascular diseases if smaller particles reach the human lungs.
Environmental degradation and climate change go hand in hand, and both are anthropogenic activities. Combustion of fossil fuels has resulted in the emission of greenhouse gases, and its excessive amount has lead to global warming. The signs of global warming are everywhere and it is also complex.
In this article, what I tried to discuss was the impact of the overall climate change on human health— both psychological and physiological, and also how directly and indirectly it affects human beings. As we become aware of some serious impacts, we automatically become a part of the rebuilding process, although, I’m not sure how long it would take to make the earth great again!