Often, when we think about climate change and global warming, our natural inclination is to focus in on the large-scale challenges facing our planet. However, it’s also important to recognize that the kinds of changes climate change brings are not just about broad generalizations concerning the future.
Instead, they’re issues that have the propensity to change people's lives, not in some future version of reality, but right now.
When the University of Southern California surveyed the risks noted as most worrisome by public health experts they found that “Warming weather patterns have led to longer and more frequent bloom seasons and less seasonal viral and bacteria die-off, not only creating havoc with allergy sufferers and a faster spread of food and waterborne diseases, but increasing air pollution and extremes in weather leading to greater states of emergency.”
As always, one of the best ways to deal and prepare for these troubling changes is by making sure that you and that people around you are educated. What does climate change look like, right now, on a personal level?
Natural disasters increasing in intensity
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season has provided a fitting backdrop with which to begin this conversation. The season will come to a close on November 30th, and at this point it’s been one of mass devastation certainly: the estimates for hurricanes Harvey, Jose, Maria, and Irma, have been reported at $200 billion dollars.
Each dollar represents the places and things that thousands of people had used to live their lives. But more profoundly, so far, 103 people have lost their lives in the midst of these massive storms.
Climate change didn’t cause the hurricanes to occur, seasonal weather occurrences were seasonal before the threat of climate change.
However, as Sean Sublette, a meteorologist with Climate Central, told CNN, “The short version is, climate change makes these very bad storms worse. It's not the proximate cause of the storm, but it makes these bad storms worse. And in the case of a really bad storm, climate change can make it totally disastrous or catastrophic."
Wider impact of diseases
Another impact of global warming is its ability to cause diseases to spread, because many types of diseases thrive in warm, wet climates.
Infectious: Cholera, which kills over 100,000 people every year, is predominantly problematic in the summer, but is far less pervasive in the winter. Salmonella, which is foodborne, has the easiest amount of time reproducing in warm climates. These gastrointestinal diseases will thus only be fortified by future global warming trends.
“Changes in infectious disease transmission patterns are a likely major consequence of climate change. We need to learn more about the underlying complex causal relationships, and apply this information to the prediction of future impacts, using more complete, better validated, integrated, models,” concluded the World Health Organization in a summary on climate change and infectious diseases.
The health impacts of the types of diseases that flourish in warmer climates have the ability to impact people like never before.
Changes made to the Environmental Protection Agency
In the U.S. EPA’s own words, “The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.” They accomplish that end by doing a number of things including studying environmental issues, pushing legislative change, and giving grants.
“The Clean Power Plan, which was created during former President Obama’s administration, intended to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The EPA estimated the plan would prevent 3,600 premature deaths per year,” notes the University of Arizona.
However, since then Trump-appointed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken steps to repeal the plan, and the EPA has released a new four-year plan that does not mention climate change.
It’s a discouraging change of events for those who hope and count on government involvement.
Related mental health issues becoming prevalent
The social and economic impact that can come at the hands of climate change reaches beyond just the physical implications. Underlining everything is the fact that loss of a physical nature has a direct tie to the mental and emotional well-being of a person.
For example, even for those who survived hurricane-devastated areas, there is no going back. For most, their homes and towns are not what they were — every semblance of normalcy gone.
And, of course, they’re the ones who lost the things most easily replaceable. For those connected to the 103 who have perished during the 2017 hurricane season, the road ahead is filled with even more tumult.
The United States Global Change Research Program notes, “The social and mental health consequences of extreme weather events have been the focus of research for more than three decades. The mental health and well-being consequences of extreme events, particularly natural disasters, are common and form a significant part of the overall effects on health.”
It’s important to remember as we move forward that the numbers don’t accurately represent the way that lives are changed as a result of natural or man-made calamities. Long after the rebuilding efforts are successful, there will be lingering pain.
Climate change, changes people
While we collectively need to be aware of the vastness of climate change’s implications and working towards collective solutions, the most poignant proof is often right in front of us as individuals. It can be easy to see global warming as a trend that’s massive impacts will be in the distant future; it’s our grandchildrens problem.
However, critically assessing what is already happening — if not in one’s own family, but in one’s community or society — often brings things to light that make it clear that this is an issue that we are already in the midst of. And if an individual stands outside the parameters of climate change’s reach, it’s not likely to be a truth that remains over the long term.