POST TIME: 21 April, 2019 12:24:31 AM
Climate disruption
The magnitude and severity of the environmental consequences of climate change need to be considered in the context of human activity, such as poor land-use policies that can exacerbate the environmental consequences of both natural and human-made disasters
Mohammed Abul Kalam, PhD

Climate disruption

Climate change—or, perhaps more accurately, global climate disruption—is profoundly affecting life on earth in many interrelated ways. The health and environmental risks posed by climate change are interlinked with conditions of poverty and socioeconomic inequalities, with population growth and migration, with emerging diseases and hazardous chemicals, and with ecosystem damage and biodiversity loss. This article focuses on the increasing body of evidence concerning the relationships between aspects of climate change and collective violence. It also explores what public health professionals can do to expand the knowledge base concerning these relationships and what can be done to prevent collective violence caused, or contributed to, by climate change.

The magnitude and severity of the environmental consequences of climate change need to be considered in the context of human activity, such as poor land-use policies that can exacerbate the environmental consequences of both natural and human-made disasters. Adverse health consequences associated with climate change can be categorized as (a) direct health effects, including heat-related disorders, respiratory and allergic disorders, infectious diseases, and injuries from extreme weather events; (b) indirect health effects from food insecurity, forced migration, and collective violence; and (c) mental health disorders affecting individuals, communities, and entire nations.

Heat-related consequences include heat-related disorders, such as heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and dehydration, as well as complications of chronic diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, and diabetes mellitus. As a result of climate change, respiratory and allergic disorders will increase, owing primarily to higher concentrations of ozone (largely due to vehicular exhaust and warm ambient temperatures), smoke from wildfires, increased production of pollen and longer pollen seasons, and increased exposure to mold (as a result of residential water damage from flooding). In addition, infectious diseases resulting from climate change include vector-borne disease (as a result of wider distribution of disease-carrying vectors and longer transmission seasons), waterborne disease (largely due to sewage contamination of water supplies as a result of floods and to scarcity of water during severe droughts, leading to the use of unsafe water sources), and foodborne disease (because higher temperatures increase growth and persistence of pathogens and because of food contamination from contaminated water).

Indirect health consequences resulting from climate change will affect primarily people in middle-income and low-income countries. Impacts include (a) malnutrition due to food shortages and resultant higher food prices, which will likely occur as a result of increasing temperatures and precipitation extremes, leading to droughts and floods; (b) health consequences due to forced migration because individuals and entire communities will likely be displaced, within their own countries or to other countries, owing to cropland damage, sea-level rise, and food and water shortages.

Climate change is a significant threat to the health of the Bangladeshi people. The impacts of human-induced climate change are increasing nationwide. Rising greenhouse gas concentrations result in increases in temperature, changes in precipitation, increases in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea levels. These climate change impacts endanger our health by affecting our food and water sources, the air we breathe, the weather we experience, and our interactions with the built and natural environments. As the climate continues to change, the risks to human health continue to grow.

Climate change has profound consequences for human rights and social justice. Large inequalities exist among countries in regard to their levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as the magnitude and severity of adverse consequences due to climate change. Countries that contribute the least to GHG emissions will likely continue to experience the greatest consequences due to climate change. The greatest impact of climate change will occur in poor countries.

If carbon dioxide concentrations and rapid climate change continue on a business-as-usual path, the economies of poor countries will likely be seriously impaired; the mean annual growth rate of these countries will likely decrease from 3.2% to 2.6% by 2100. Poor countries will probably suffer economically from climate change much more than rich countries for the following reasons: (a) They are more often exposed to very high temperatures; (b) they heavily rely on agriculture, extraction of natural resources, and other industrial sectors that are vulnerable to extreme weather variability; and (c) various approaches to risk management, ranging from air conditioning to insurance, are less available in poor countries than in rich countries.

A variety of socioeconomic, demographic, health-related, geographic, and other risk factors make populations and subgroups within populations more vulnerable to the health consequences of climate change. These risk factors include poverty, female gender, minority status, young or old age, and various diseases and disabilities. In addition, health consequences resulting from climate change will likely continue to be concentrated in low-income populations residing at low latitudes, where major climate-sensitive disorders, such as malaria, diarrheal disease, and malnutrition, are highly prevalent and where vulnerability to these disorders is the greatest.

In addition, workers in many occupations are at an increased risk for the health consequences of climate change. Those at risk include (a) outdoor workers who perform tasks in extreme heat; (b) other workers who are exposed to extremes of temperature or precipitation; (c) workers exposed to air pollutants, infectious agents, and/or extreme weather events; and (d) workers in specific industries, such as utilities, transportation, health care, emergency response, environmental remediation, construction and demolition, landscaping, agriculture, forestry, and wildlife management.

Additional important public health activities to address climate change include (a) raising awareness, educating, and encouraging ongoing communication for other health professionals, policy makers, and the general public; (b) performing and supporting research on the health impacts of climate change and on approaches to protecting public health; (c) investigating disease outbreaks that may be related to climate change, such as outbreaks of vector-borne disease; (d) assessing the vulnerability and the resilience of communities in the face of climate change; (e) evaluating mitigation, adaptation, and other measures; and (f) promoting increases in the resources and capacities of state and local health departments to address climate change.

Climate-related heat, storms, and floods are already impacting the health, livelihoods and security of communities across Bangladesh and around the world. But with the right policies and investments today, we have the opportunity to fight climate change with actions that will also bring immediate health benefits to communities.

We have missed an opportunity to put our health and well-being at the centre of the climate. In another sense, of course, our situation is far worse. Not only has a culture war broken out, but the four hottest years in the world have happened in the past five years. We’ve spent two decades digging a deeper hole for ourselves. It’s still not clear when or how we can climb out.

The writer is former Head, Department of Medical Sociology, Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control & Research (IEDCR), E-mail: med_sociology_iedcr@yahoo.com