Mother Nature recently proved to us once again how powerful she really is with the horrific destruction of New York and major sections of the East Coast by Hurricane Sandy. Unfortunately, such events are not only more common today than in yesteryears, they have become a way of life for the planet.
We are experiencing increasing instability in weather and climate, which has caused a major impact on human health both directly and indirectly. The two major categories for public health effects of climate change are increased temperatures and extreme weather events.
Heat exposure can cause a range of health effects from mild heat rashes to full blown heat stroke and death. With the elderly's limited ability to sweat in advanced age, they are the most vulnerable along with infants. In the United States, the number of people 65 years of age and older will increase from 12.4% in 2000 to 20% in 2060. The 2003 heat wave in Europe caused more than 35,000 excess deaths.
Heat increases ground level ozone concentrations which causes direct lung injury and increases the severity of respiratory diseases such as asthma, allergies and emphysema through greater pollen, mold spore and fine particle exposure.
As the weather becomes more extreme with greater frequency and intensity of precipitation events coupled with our changing demographics to more coastal regions, the direct effects of a 67% increase in heavier precipitation includes drowning from floods, injuries from floods and structural collapse as seen in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
The increase in sea surface temperature and decreases in wind shear was observed years ago by climate specialists and forewarned the potential for more intense Atlantic hurricanes, which ultimately came to pass in the form of Hurricane Sandy.
In the United States, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005 were two of the most damaging hurricanes in US history and impacted more than 90,000 square miles affecting 1.5 million people, including 800,000 citizens who were relocated from their homes. The after effects of Hurricane Sandy are far from being known at this time and could run into the billions of dollars. It is projected that there will be 200 million people displaced from climate change worldwide by 2050, who will experience with it major mental and emotional stress-related disorders by losing connection to their home environment.
What can you do as an individual you may ask? Change your five most used light fixtures in your home to energy star qualified products. Look for the energy star label on appliances, lighting, electronics, office equipment and heating and cooling products before you buy. Change your air filter regularly and use a thermostat with your heating and cooling products. Seal and insulate your home. Reduce, reuse and recycle. Use water efficiently by fixing a leaky toilet or faucet, run your dishwasher on a full load and limit lawn or landscape irrigation. Compost your food and yard waste. Purchase green power such as wind and sun to power your home when available. Identify your home's "Household Greenhouse Gas Emissions Calculator," and seek ways to reduce them.
Spread the word to everyone you know!
Dr. Ballard is a Board Certified Internal Medicine and Geriatric Medicine Physician. Her articles are not meant to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your personal physician for questions. Dr. Ballard practices in Enumclaw, WA and her office can be reached at 360-825-1389.