Global Environmental Change: Is it a Threat to Human Health?
By Cristina Dolhescu
Have you ever wondered how the environment you live in affects your health? If not, now it is time to become more aware of how environmental change threatens human health.
Let’s face it, our planet experienced several changes lately as a result of human activities that are impacting the Earth’s basic physical and biological systems. From extreme temperatures and weather patterns to heavy air pollution, our environment seems to be nothing like it used to be centuries ago.
The reason for these changes is pretty apparent: as cities continue to grow, humans are contaminating and destroying our planet’s natural resources. Like it or not, it seems like Planet Earth has no other option than to start fighting back.
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Now, the fact that all these changes have multiple negative impacts on public health shouldn’t be a surprise. The environment we live in affects our health in countless ways. In some cases, this is more obvious, like we can notice how climate change and pollution impacts our life quality. Yet, in some cases, we are less aware of how environmental change affects us.
For example, more and more agricultural products include harmful chemicals, which are a significant threat both to us and to our environment. According to the World Health Organization, environmental changes will only become more severe over time, causing nearly 250,000 deaths every year between 2030 and 2050. Seems far too fetched, right? Unfortunately, this is the truth.
Climate change explained
These days, we hear about climate change and environmental threats all the time on the TV, read about it on Social Media, and hear our friends talking about it. But are we taking it seriously enough? Environmental concerns can no longer be ignored because they happen here and now, and they are becoming more evident than ever before. But how exactly is our planet changing?
Over the last 130 years, Planet Earth has warmed by nearly 0.98 degree-Celsius. The problem is that in each of the previous three decades, it got successively warmer than the preceding decade since 1850, so it is doubtful for things to get any better soon.
Why? Most human activities harmed the environment we live in. However, the burning of fossil fuel, particularly, impacted it the most by releasing a significant amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These gases trapped additional heat in the lower atmosphere of the planet. As one bad thing leads to another, rising temperatures brought more disastrous consequences to our environment.
We are talking about the rise of sea levels, melting glaciers, and changing precipitation patterns. Consequently, these changes also contribute to extreme weather events becoming more frequent than ever before, including hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and droughts. Another human activity that powerfully impacted our environment is rapid urbanization. As cities grow worldwide, our planet is experiencing massive deforestation and massive amounts of waste and urban pollution. The results? Poorer air quality and waste and contamination of our planet’s natural resources.
Additionally, poor waste management represents a significant threat to our environment. And, China’s plastic waste import ban in 2018 made developed nations struggle with waste overload and led to an impending crisis for waste recycling worldwide. Data from the World Bank warns us that the current global waste levels will increase by 70% by 2050.
Climate change and human health
It’s no brainer that all the changes that are happening to our planet have both direct and indirect impacts on our health and life quality. Air pollution. According to the World Economic Forum, currently, the most significant environmental threat to public health is air pollution. Globally, more than 80% of people who live in urban areas are exposed to air quality rates that significantly exceed the recommended guideline limits.
Unfortunately, nearly 5 million deaths are caused by air pollution every year, according to data from Our World in Data. This means that air pollution is responsible for 9% or almost 1 in 10 deaths globally annually. Although its impacts may not seem so evident to us, poor air quality is a major factor that increases mortality from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections.
World’s population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050. So far, so good, right? However, experts believe that global food production must increase by 70% by 2050 to be able to produce enough food to feed everybody. Yet, this will be a real challenge as, over the last 150 years, our planet’s soil experienced a loss of nearly half of the topsoil.
Besides, our planet’s fertile land also experienced multiple changes such as compaction, loss of structure, nutrient degradation, and salinity. Plus, soil erosion also caused declines in fish and other water species as it has increased sedimentation in rivers, clogging waterways. Lack of fertile land leads to significantly less nutritious food, which is a significant threat to human health.
It’s difficult to deny global warming when we are all seeing how the four seasons are changing. By 2070, experts expect the number of hot days to rise from four to six days per year, as it is today, to nearly 33 to 45 days annually. Extreme heat is obviously uncomfortable for all of us. But it is also extremely harmful to our health. Deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases are expected to become more common. Also, conditions like heat strokes and heat stress will be more frequent. According to National Geographic, we might also see more cases of severe allergies and asthma as a result of increasing levels of pollen and other aeroallergens.
Climate change is already a major threat to public health. And, if we continue to take our planet’s natural resources for granted, things will only get worse over time.