Human Health And Disease Risks

Extreme weather events can have disastrous effects on physical and mental health as well as environmental health. The occurrence of droughts can lead to problems associated with water availability and quality (for example, people sharing water with livestock). Similarly, heat-related effects such as exhaustion, cramps, heart attacks, stroke, and even death are possible outcomes as a result of heat waves. Furthermore, excessive rainfalls and flooding are associated with the risk of injuries and death (as from drowning), as well as the spread of various water-borne diseases (via fecal-contaminated waterways and drinking supplies), and exposure to toxic pollutants (from nearby industrial sites and municipal sewage—as was the case with the Elbe flood which took place in 2002 in central Europe). The variation of risks associated with the transmission of infectious diseases as a result of extreme weather events have also been documented; however, their relation to global warming and climate change have not yet been conclusively reported in the literature.

The risks associated with the transmission of infectious diseases are dependent upon the kind(s) of weather event(s) that have occurred. As such, the reproduction and survival of disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes could be impaired by heavy rainfalls (such as flushing larvae from pooled water) or heightened by changes in climate and rainfall patterns. For instance, changes in climate have allowed vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever to survive in otherwise inhospitable areas (in higher elevations). Other vector-borne diseases (such as cholera, Ross River virus, and West Nile) and food-borne diseases (like the proliferation of bacteria in contaminated foods) are also at risk of occurring as a result of higher temperatures.

As noted by the Canadian Lung Association, climate change and the effects of it can lead to air quality problems such as those resulting from the increased burning of fossil fuels as a direct result of rising temperatures (for example, increased use of air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers); increases in forest fires; and increased mold growth as a result of elevated levels of precipitation. Associated health effects such as asthma and allergies as well as other respiratory-related morbidity and mortality are also of concern. The Canadian Lung Association provides a more comprehensive explanation of the connection between climate change, air quality, and respiratory health.

Global warming and climate change can impact both the balance and health of the ecosystem, which in turn puts human health at risk. A report by the UN Environment Programme provides an overview of the relationship between climate change and ultraviolet radiation, ozone depletion, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and biogeochemical cycles. Changes and losses related to biodiversity (disruption in ecosystems and species extinction) are also of concern. In a 2007 article, Frederic Jiguet and colleagues note a number of studies that have shown that habitat degradation is taking place; particular reference is made to research on plants, butterflies, beetles, mammals, bumblebees, birds, coral reefs, and coral-dwelling fishes—how-ever, there are a number of other habitats which may also be at risk. Moreover, based on findings from the first comprehensive assessment of extinction risk, the Natural Resources Defense Council notes, "more than one million species could be committed to extinction by 2050 if global warming pollution is not curtailed."

Diversity in species is important, because it aids in ecosystem services/functions (maintaining soil fertility and pollinating plants and crops); a change in ecosystem services/functions can have far-reaching implications (it can affect agro-ecosystems, marine systems, and fresh water, as well as the transmission of vector-borne diseases). Furthermore, there are also risks associated with nutrition, which is dependent on the state of agricultural output (such as changes in food productivity and associated pests which are involved in the transmission of diseases) as well as other food sources (like fisheries and mammals); this can have consequences on ecosystem and human health in the immediate area(s) and globally.

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