The Impact Of Rising Temperatures On Our Health - The Years Project

The Impact Of Rising Temperatures On Our Health

By Ivana Rahaman

The past decade was the hottest decade on record, and 2019 was the second hottest year for the planet’s surface. The extreme effects of climate change are taking a huge toll on our planet, but the concern doesn’t stop with the temperature itself. Human health is becoming more vulnerable due to changes in the climate every year, especially as carbon emissions continue to climb. The World Health Organization estimates that climate change is expected to result in 250,000 additional deaths per year from 2030 to 2050. These heat extremes not only threaten the environment, but our very lives. 

Cities in the United States have already been experiencing effects of the heat. Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, along with many others have reported a dramatic increase in death rates during heat waves. Other parts of the world are also experiencing similar effects. A 2003 European heat wave affected numerous countries including Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and England. Temperatures were 20 to 30 percent higher than average, leading to the excess death of more than 70,000 people. Numerous studies predict that by 2050, temperature changes caused by climate change will be extremely significant. One study by the Crowther Lab in Switzerland estimates that cities in the Northern Hemisphere will have climates similar to cities more than 620 miles to their south. NASA concludes that if warming continues, twice the number of megacities and more than 350 million people will experience heat stress by 2050.

Why is the heat so dangerous? One reason is that prolonged exposure to heat can cause many issues such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion, and can even exacerbate pre-existing conditions like respiratory, cerebral and cardiovascular diseases. The increased temperatures also play a major role in allergen production. Higher concentrations of pollen along with longer blooming seasons will worsen people’s allergic responses and asthmatic episodes. Ground-level ozone will also affect health by contributing to diminished lung function, inflammation, and chest pains. 

But heat is not the only problem. Extreme rainfall, another effect of climate change, can also cause major health problems, especially when combined with hotter temperatures. Fungi and mold thrive in these environments and can worsen respiratory and asthma-related conditions. EMLab P&K, one of the United States’ largest mold testing companies, says the number of mold tests they are asked to perform have increased after the relentless storms and hurricanes that have occurred in recent years. 

Warmer climates will also be an invitation to disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitos and fleas. North America is becoming increasingly vulnerable to Lyme disease, West Nile virus, dengue fever, and tularemia. Malaria already threatens over 400,000 people per year, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. But the threat of diseases like Malaria is spreading. Two malaria-carrying mosquito vectors can now be found at the United States-Mexico border. 

With hundreds of thousands of additional deaths expected to occur from 2030, it is crucial that we lower our carbon emissions, or human health will continue to be at risk. More frequent heat waves, increased medical problems like respiratory conditions, along with the spreading of life-threatening diseases, will all increase the vulnerability of humans. With the last decade being the hottest on record, there is no doubt that not only is the planet heating up, but our very lives and health are on the front burner of climate change.