Earth on Fire: Global Warming’s Effects on Public Health

by Chrishane Cunningham on March 27, 2014

GEPHHi guys welcome back to the blog! So in my last blog post I talked about water quality and I know I said I would expand on that topic but I think I may have found something a bit more fitting. Recently, I have seen and heard a lot of people doubting global warming. I have seen countless tweets of people saying, “global warming has got to be a myth” because of how cold it has been. Little do these people know, global warming causes these extreme cold temperatures, but we will get to that a little bit later. If you are a reader from the Northeast or the Midwest, then you know we have been experiencing a TERRIBLE winter. So much so that the Midwest has been dubbed the “Polar Vortex.” As of February 18, 2014, Chicago (where I’m from originally), had received 66.8 inches of snow for the season. That makes this the third snowiest winter Chicago has ever had. Further, on January 6, 2014 Chicago’s temperature dipped to twenty below zero! These arctic like temperatures caused the governor to declare a state of disaster for the state of Illinois.  So what does any of this mean?


Arctic like temperatures and global warming are complete opposites, and to say that global warming causes artic temperatures seems facetious. But it’s true. Global warming leads to climate change, and climate change can manifest itself in many ways, i.e. unseasonably cold or hot temperatures. If you’ve taken a general science course, then you pretty much know the mechanism by which global warming works, and it seems intuitive how global warming can cause hotter temperatures. How global warming causes more frigid temperatures is another story. To put it simply the melting ice caps causes the polar vortex (in the Arctic) to weaken. This weakening  of the polar vortex effects the jet stream. The jet stream is a narrow variable stretch of very strong, predominantly westerly air currents encircling the globe a few miles above the earth and helps to steer weather systems around the world. These jet streams can cause a myriad of temperatures throughout the world. Normally, when talking about global warming and climate change, we are preoccupied with how it affects the environment; people think of melting glaciers and dried up savannahs. However, it’s important to discuss how climate change relates to humans and public health.


So how does climate change relate to public health? Climate change has been linked to an increase in infectious diseases, childhood asthma, and heat induced heart attacks. Scientists have found that an increase in carbon dioxide causes plants to grow more and thus produce more pollen. The increased levels of pollen in the air has been linked to increased cases of seasonal hay fever and allergy induced asthma. As most people know, the increase in carbon dioxide emissions have been linked to temperature increases. As the overall temperature of the earth increases it can cause unseasonably high temperatures and/or extreme temperatures. Places that experience all four seasons like the Northeast and Midwest often catch the brunt of these effects. Because of climate change we have experienced successive days of temperatures above 95 degrees in the summer. These heat waves affect the elderly andthe young the most. The elderly are more susceptible to heart attacks and heat strokes, and infants can be more susceptible to death from over heating.


There is an overwhelming amount data that suggests that climate change and global warming is no longer just an environmental issue but a public health issue as well. This is a message I try to relay to those who do not consider themselves as environmentally conscious. The earth is one big interconnected ecosystem and we all need to work to live more sustainable lives if not for the environment, then for ourselves and the preservation of human life.
















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