Lyme disease, zika, dengue fever, allergies, food shortages, oh my! Today I want to talk about something that everyday people rarely think about: health and climate change. It’s likely that the changes we are seeing around the globe will have huge impacts on our health and the health of our loved ones.
Recently, Bowling Green State University held a symposium on the effects of climate change on health. I spent a good amount of time helping my advisor, who was one of the speakers on the panel, research and put together a presentation on the effects of climate change on ecology that will effect health and boy was it eye opening! I had a vague idea of how climate change would effect health but I didn’t know the extent and now I’m worried about people! But before I get into the specifics I want to talk a little about the panel.
The University brought in prominent members of the community to talk about the impacts of climate change featuring keynote speaker Dr. Shannon Ore, Dr. Tim Davis of NOAA, Dr. Shannon Pelini (our badass advisor and) BGSU biology faculty, and Ryan Wichman a meteorologist from WTOL. They all highlighted the important information about climate change and how it will effect our economy, politics, and health. I want to highlight some interesting things that I took from the talks and give you some ways to prevent health impacts of climate change. I care about people and while researching it became apparent that this will affect everyone in some way.
I think the number one take away message from this talk was that climate change is going to make everything worse. This is one of the main reasons that we should be fighting to stop it. It is difficult to think far into the future, especially when we have other more immediate issues going on in our lives, but at this point we no longer have to imagine what climate change will do because we are seeing the effects right now.
Diseases are creeping closer and closer to people as their vectors (mosquitoes, ticks, and other critters) move northward due to warmer temperatures. Zika has recently been in the news but other mosquito borne disease are also moving northward. Also, NPR wrote a great article about Lyme disease here is a sneak peek below of the spread. Lyme disease can cause a bullseye rash at the bite site and if it isn’t treated it can lead to cronic fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and in later stages physical disability.
We are also seeing increases in the amount of pollen as plants spread to new areas and grow larger and more potent. These plants move because again northern regions are becoming warmer but also because of increases in carbon dioxide (CO2). Plants use CO2 to grow and that means more CO2 leads to larger plants.
We often say “Not in our backyard” when referring to bad things happening. Climate change forces us to question how large is our metaphorical backyard? Because we don’t live in a bubble and our world is connected, if a part of the country suddenly has a climate change induced drought and that area grows a large proportion of our food, our “backyard” suddenly seems a lot larger. It may encompass the whole country or the whole world. We need to realize that climate change will eventually affect everyone.
The New York Times recently published information from Yale, which shows how Americans think climate change will affect their health. From these results, it appears that at least half of Americans think climate change is happening, fewer people think it’s human caused, but throughout the majority of the country, save a few spots in southern Texas and California, only about 30% of people in counties across the U.S. believe climate change will harm them personally.
It’s easy to forget about climate change when you live in a relatively unaffected area, but people are feeling the effects even now. A group of physicians, the Medical Society Consortium on Climate Health, recently put out a review of the effects of climate change on their patients. They have a variety of resources including case studies but mostly they highlight the potential health effects of climate change from fires, disease vectors, food shortages, disasters, and mental health effects that follow any of these traumatic events.
In order to protect yourself from the health impacts of climate change you should be more vigilant about insect repellent at all times of the year. Bugs don’t pay attention to seasons, they only care about the weather and if it’s warm they may be out! In Ohio, we had a couple of really warm days in February and March. People who are spending time outside on these days, especially if your walking around the woods, should pay attention to ticks. Additionally, if you’re an allergy sufferer you may want to stock up on allergy medication early and keep it handy because pollen may become worse or spread further in the coming seasons.
Speaking of pollen, there are some things that you can do to protect those bugs that are important for our crops. Pollinators have seen declines for many reasons lately, but one of those reasons may be climate related. Planting pollinator friendly plants in your yard may help increase the number of pollinators that we rely on to pollinate our crops. If you’re feeling really bug friendly try creating a bug hotel for your flying friends! I wish I had a yard so I could create one!
Look even The Brain Scoop’s Emily Graslie is doing it!
Finally, talk to your doctor if you notice any weird symptoms or you just want to talk about issues that may be related to your area please ask your doctor! It’s so important for everyone to be on top of these issues so that we can all stay healthy!