Global warming may make the world’s inhabitants cranky and stressed, drive them crazy, give them cancer and even worsen their suffering from sexual dysfunction, according to a new government report on climate change – but the scientists say more money is needed before they can be certain.
What are the consequences of doing nothing?
In a nutshell: Humanity will suffer every imaginable illness, and the world will essentially end.
Government scientists from several taxpayer-funded agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, compiled an 80-page report titled, “A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change: A Report Outlining the Research Needs on the Human Health Effects of Climate Change.”
The “ancient-forest friendly” report, printed with 100 percent recycled ink, is organized around the following 11 human health categories the scientists believed were likely to be affected by climate change:
- asthma, allergies and airway diseases
- cardiovascular disease and stroke
- alterations in normal development
- heat-related morbidity and mortality
- mental health and stress disorders
- neurological diseases and disorders
- nutrition and food-borne illness
- vector-borne and zoonotic disease
- waterborne disease
- weather-related morbidity and mortality
Asthma and allergies
The scientists concluded that respiratory allergies and diseases will become more prevalent because, they claim, growing seasons will be altered, increasing human exposure to pollen.
“Climate change will likely amplify existing environmental stimulation of asthma, respiratory allergies, and airway disease, resulting in more severe and frequent disease exacerbations and an increase in the overall burden of these conditions,” the report states. “Thus, continued research on climate change’s effect on alterations in the composition of aeroallergens and air pollutant mixtures and their consequent effects on health is essential.”
Cancer in animals and humans
According to the report, climate change will also cause a worldwide increase in cancer in humans and animals, especially following heavy rainfall and “by increased volatilization of chemicals under conditions of increased temperature.”
“In the case of heavy rainfall or flooding, there may be an increase in leaching of toxic chemicals and heavy metals from storage sites and increased contamination of water with runoff containing persistent chemicals that are already in the environment,” it warns. “Marine animals, including mammals, also may suffer direct effects of cancer linked to sustained or chronic exposure to chemical contaminants in the marine environment, and thereby serve as indicators of similar risks to humans.”
The report also warns that climate change will result in increased duration and intensity of ultraviolet radiation, raising the risk of skin cancers and cataracts.
Cardiovascular disease and stroke
The scientists also claim climate change will exacerbate existing cardiovascular disease “increasing heat stress, increasing the body burden of airborne particulates, and changing the distribution of zoonotic vectors that cause infectious diseases linked with cardiovascular disease.”
According to the report, extreme cold and extreme heat can serve as “stressors in individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular disease.” It also states that heat amplifies adverse impacts of ozone and particulates on cardiovascular disease.
“These pollutants are likely to be affected by climate-change mitigation activities, and thus, likely reduce rates of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” it states.
The scientists also say increased use of wind, wave, solar and nuclear power is “likely to reduce cardiovascular risks by reducing particulate and other air pollution emissions.”
Foodborne illness and nutrition
Climate change may cause food shortages, malnutrition and food contamination, the group warns. According to the report, extreme weather events and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns may annihilate crops, destroy food supplies and interrupt distribution of food. People may contract foodborne illnesses from food that is spoiled or contaminated with microbes, pesticides or other toxins.
The scientists also claim agricultural crops and fisheries may be threatened with contamination by metals, chemicals and other toxins released into the environment after extreme weather events, such as flooding, droughts and wildfires due to climate change.
Heat-related morbidity and mortality
“As a result of anthropogenic climate change, global mean temperatures are rising, and are expected to continue to increase, regardless of progress in reducing greenhouse emissions,” the report warns. “Global average temperatures are projected to increase between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.”
The temperature increase is likely to result in heat waves, the scientists say. Prolonged heat exposure may result in heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke and death and “exacerbate preexisting chronic conditions such as various respiratory, cerebral, and cardiovascular disease, as well as increasing risk for patients taking psychotropic drug treatment for mental disorders …”
While the group notes that air conditioning may reduce heat-related risk, it warns, “increased use of air conditioning may result in higher greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, to the extent that power grids become overburdened during excessive heat events, resulting in blackouts and brownouts could leave populations at increased risk of death.”
Genetic mutations, birth defects
According to the report, climate change may impact the health of future generations.
“Some changes to the environment resulting from climate change could alter normal human development both in the womb and later in life,” the report states. Pregnant women may suffer from malnutrition, resulting in low birth weight and developmental deficits. The scientists claim contaminants such as mercury and lead in fish and seafood may cause developmental effects.
“For example, certain commercial chemicals present in storage sites or hazardous waste sites can alter human development,” it explains. “Flooding from extreme weather events and sea-level rise are likely to result in the release of some of these chemicals and heavy metals, most likely affecting drinking and recreational waters. Some of these, including mercury and lead, have known developmental effects.”
The scientists also warn that access to prenatal care may be disrupted following extreme weather events, “increasing the risk of long-term consequences for mothers, children and society.”
Mental health and stress
“Psychological impacts of climate change, ranging from mild stress to chronic stress or other mental disorders, are generally indirect and have only recently been considered among the collection of health impacts of climate change,” the report warns. “Mental health concerns are among some of the most potentially devastating effects in terms of human suffering, and among the most difficult to quantify and address.”
The scientists claim extreme weather events such as hurricanes, wildfires and flooding may cause anxiety and emotional stress and an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated grief, depression, poor concentration, sleep difficulties, sexual dysfunction, social avoidance, irritability and drug and alcohol abuse.
Other diseases and disorders
The report links climate change to a possible increase in neurological disease and disorders stemming from algae blooms, infectious disease such as malaria and avian flu and waterborne disease due to increases in microorganisms, biotoxins and contaminants in drinking water. It also warns of extreme weather-related events such as hurricanes, floods, blizzards and drought resulting in widespread death.
“Sea-level rise associated with climate change will amplify the threat from storm surge associated with extreme weather events in coastal areas,” the report states. “Other areas, such as the Southwest, are at risk for decreased agricultural productivity due to drought and possible compromise of potable water supplies due to flooding from heavy precipitation events.
The scientists call for more public funding to further study the potential impact of climate change, one of the “most visible environmental concerns of the 21st century.”
‘Global risks’ of climate change
“Some degree of climate change is unavoidable, and we must adapt to its associated health effects; however, aggressive mitigation actions can significantly blunt the worst of the expected exposures,” the scientists conclude “Still, there will be effects on the health of the people in the United States, some of which are probably already underway. As great as the domestic risks to U.S. public health are, the global risks are even greater.”
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