Climate Change: The New Global Health Epidemic

By: Dalainey Gervais

Disastrous climate events are happening around the world, with forest fires raging through British Colombia and recent news of thick smog in India leading to government officials ordering the closing of schools for a minimum of one week due to dangerous conditions. Our relationship to climate change is deepening, with new studies suggesting eco-anxiety as a main source of worry in young adults. This leads to a controversial question: will climate change be the source of the next global health crisis?

This summer, forest fires in British Columbia created dangerous conditions and sparked conversation in the world of medicine. Dr. Kyle Merritt, head of the emergency department at Kootenay Lake Hospital in B.C., Canada gave a controversial diagnosis of “climate change” to a patient suffering from heatstroke, dehydration and breathing issues. After helping multiple patients in the emergency room with similar symptoms, Dr. Merritt came to the conclusion that the leading cause of the illness is climate change. This is the first diagnosis of its kind, however an important one in creating a place for change in climate health.

While there are signs that indicate the rise of the progression of climate change, there is no official list of symptoms of climate change as a medical diagnosis. However, symptoms as a result to air pollution, rising global temperatures and other climate events are rising in populations living in and around areas with high pollution rates. The rise in rates of certain chronic illnesses, cancer and breathing conditions such as asthma may be linked to destructive climate events happening daily around the world.

Along with impeding risks of more individuals suffering from heatstroke, dehydration and breathing issues, experts at the Wildlife Conservation Society have been warning of impeding pandemics and disease outbreaks as a direct result of climate change and it’s interaction with wildlife. Without proper monitoring of wildlife, major outbreaks of cholera, the bird flu and tuberculosis are likely to spread.

Those living in poverty and in third world countries are at the frontline of climate change lead illnesses. Worsening air pollution levels in Ontario has lead to levels of cancer-causing air pollution to rise 44 times over the annual level, harming Indigenous communities in the North. This rise in air pollution in Indigenous communities will contribute to a rise of children suffering from asthma, and inevitably, a rise in cancer rates. Lack of research and support for these communities are only intensifying the rates of illnesses caused by climate change and furthering their inaccessibility to healthcare.

The risk of worsening public health as a direct result of climate change is leading a push in climate change research, and will ultimately lead to a safe, less destructive course of action in addressing our worsening planetary health.

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