In the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 179, we mentioned a study that found a possible link between polluted air and appendicitis. As research on the subject grows, we are beginning to see the effects of climate change on our health, and they aren’t good.
In 2010, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) released their Policy on Climate Change and Human Health,1 which outlines a number of ways in which the environmental alterations brought on by climate change can harm our health, and what we can do to mitigate some of these problems. At its General Council meeting in Vancouver in summer 2016, the CMA focused its members’ attention on this topic, reiterating that the effects of climate change on health are still a danger.
While it may seem odd that climate change could actually impact our health, you have to look at the cascade that flows from the initial changes. Rising temperature in the arctic region causes glacier melting that leads to rising sea levels, which can cause population displacement in coastal areas and impact water quality and supply. Heat waves and flooding allow disease to spread more easily and cause people to become more susceptible to disease. Pollution can also impact air quality, leading to lung disease. All of these factors contribute to amplifying existing health hazards, causing a decrease in livelihoods, spreading disease, creating homelessness, decreasing food yields, and reducing access to food and clean water.
The World Health Organization projected that the countries most likely to be strongly affected by these changes are the ones that have contributed the least to climate change. However, Health Canada reports that in this century, Canada is likely to experience higher rates of warming than most other countries. This is especially strong in northern Canada, where changing ice patterns and the melting of permanent snow packs are already affecting Indigenous Peoples.
Researchers believe that climate change has the potential to be one of the greatest threats to human health in the 21st century, and it is important for everyone to work together to mitigate these factors and adapt to changes.
The CMA lists five areas in which health authorities should be addressing climate change:
- Education and capacity building through public and health professional awareness and education. The population should learn ways that climate change can affect them and ways to reduce green house gas emissions.
- Surveillance and research need to be strengthened to allow for greater accuracy in understanding how climate change will affect us in the future.
- Reducing the burden of disease to mitigate climate change impacts is important because a population that is more vulnerable to begin with is more susceptible to the negative impacts of climate change. They advise we work on improving general health and education about health and climate change.
- Preparing for climate emergencies to make sure we can deal with the future burden of climate change and related health issues.
- Advocacy to combat climate change by bringing the global community together to reduce levels of green house gases and focus on environmentally friendly energy sources.
Investment in these actions adds great value and is worth the cost, because they could help reduce the future burden of climate change, and all its effects, including those in health.