Current Impact of Climate Change

When I hear people say that the changes in climate are ‘just another weather cycle,’ I wonder if they understand the reasons why scientists are so worried.  It is not simply the historic increases in temperature.  The bigger concerns are the permanent changes in the environment that foster ongoing and worsening problems.  The atmosphere now has greenhouse gases that could take a 1000 years to dissipate even without further pollution (Related blog post: The Health Consequences of Climate Change).  This is akin to sleeping under more blankets except that in the middle of the night, when you are sweating, there is not a simple fix –no easy way to remove the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

A recent commentary (RN Salas. NEJM 2020; 382: 589-91) details the myriad ways that the climate crisis will affect clinical practice.

The climate crisis is a threat multiplier;  key points:

  • climate sensitive waterborne and foodborne illness
  • worsening mental health
  • heat strokes/heat-related hospitalizations
  • rising pollen levels
  • decreasing nutritional value of food
  • vector borne disease
  • trouble with medication storage (need to be stored at appropriate temperatures)
  • treatment disruptions by climate events
  • supply-chain disruptions by climate catastrophes
  • hospital power outages
  • rising temperatures could increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics

My take (borrowed from commentary): “Despite the irony, I often describe our current knowledge of the health effects of climate crisis as an iceberg.  Though we see a peak above the water’s surface, there is much to fear from the larger mass beneath –the effects that we haven’t yet identified.”

Related blog posts:

Garden at UNC Chapel Hill Campus

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