Asthma, along with diseases and food security, is related to climate change

Climate change is becoming a continuous threat to human health


Anakin Morales-Jimenez , Reporter

Asthma is a condition in which the airways of an individual are triggered by an outside source that causes immune system pathways to register allergenic proteins, and the airways then swell, become narrow, and produce high amounts of mucus — a potentially deadly reaction.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, asthma rates in the United States have quadrupled ever since 1980 and are continuously increasing as the years go by. “One in 12 people (about 25 million, or 8% of the U.S. population) had asthma in 2009, compared with 1 in 14 (about 20 million, or 7%) in 2001.”

The culprit of such a drastic and recent rise in asthma spread? Climate change and its impacts on the patterns of the seasons.

Paul R. Epstein, M.D., M.P.H., the associate director of the Center for Environment and Health at Harvard Medical School, states that, “…research [recently done at the center] reveal that rising carbon dioxide – itself, the driver of photosynthesis – stimulates ragweed and some flowering trees to produce an inordinate amount of pollen. Some soil fungi produce many more spores when grown under conditions of elevated CO2. These ‘aeroallergens’ are carried deep inside our lungs by diesel particles common in urban areas. This…may be contributing to [the rise in] acute and chronic lung disease…this factor will grow stronger in a world with increasing levels of CO2.”

“Climate change represents a massive threat to global health, affecting local and national food supplies, air and water quality, weather, economics, and many other critical health determinants,” states the World Allergy Organization when closely studying climate change and health. “Air pollution is closely associated with climate change. Over the last 50 years, global earth’s temperature has markedly risen. Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations…”

Above and below are line graphs from the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Center for Disease Control with the National Health Interview Survey, which show that as the ozone air quality has decreased with the affects of climate change, the rates of childhood asthma have increased as well.

Not only are concerning levels of pollen being produced more than the lungs of some may handle, but the growing season can be extended up to two months longer than usual due to climate change according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The vulnerability to other respiratory health problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, malaria, Lyme disease, and the West Nile virus, increased by a significant amount because of dust clouds and droughts in Africa and the open path for ticks opened up by climate change in certain areas, according to Dr. Epstein.

Because of how Africa’s deserts have been expanding and droughts being increasingly spontaneous, “…the clouds are propelled across the Atlantic Ocean by the pressure contrasts between warmer, saltier tropical seas and cooler, fresher water from Arctic and Greenland ice melting into the North Atlantic.” The debris and the particles from the dust clouds then penetrate the atmosphere with impurities that affect the lungs of individuals that reside in Florida and the Caribbean Islands— surprise, surprise! The spike asthma rates in the United States apply to those locations, too.

The rise in wildfires that begin with climate change driven droughts also indirectly affects the respiratory health of those who reside in areas where wildfires are common.

When speaking of the West Nile virus, the spread is amplified through warming driven spring droughts since mosquitoes have the tendency to breed in city drains as a replacement for their typical puddles and ponds. As mentioned by Dr. Epstein, warming also happens to support the extension of, “…the range of ticks that carry Lyme disease as well as malaria-bearing mosquitoes and is projected to do so even more in a warmer regime.”

Lastly, Dr. Epstein has mentioned that climate change has an affect on the food and water security within poor countries that face the issues of disease, spontaneous and unpredictable weather, depleted and eroded soil, and the absence of pollinators and natural predators of crop pests. Soybean rust — a fungal disease that was transferred to the United States in Hurricane Ivan in 2004 — has plagued, “…[eleven] states, and warm, wet weather will hasten its spread.

“Water, with stores already overdrawn and underfed in many regions (including the southwest U.S.), will become scarcer and more contaminated in many areas as alpine glaciers disappear and weather patterns shift.”

The increasing negative impacts of climate change continue making awfully concerning environmental and human factors that have the high, possibly even inevitable, potential to change lives for the worst.

The time is now to take action and resort to any measures necessary to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that we, as a people, have encouraged for so long, especially in the Industrial Age. In the recent years, scientists have been working towards ways to produce energy in environmentally safe ways, and it is still a long way from completely replacing coal resources.

“Go Green to Breathe Clean.”