Climate change is coming for us.
On the heels of last week’s predictions that the seas could rise another six feet by the end of the century, the White House has released a new report looking at the health impacts of climate change, from drowning to depression.
They are not pretty.
“When people think about the public health impacts of flooding, they think about people drowning,” said Stephanie Herring, a climate scientist at NOAA, and one of the authors of the report. “One of the things we learned from the report is that’s the tip of the health iceberg.”
I don’t think we’ve ever seen a force that affects so many dimensions of health for so many people as climate change does
After a flood, people return to their homes — which may then have mold. Mold can then make asthma symptoms worse or trigger severe allergies. These types of secondary health effects are important to consider, Herring said at a briefing Tuesday.
Among the range of physical health impacts, Americans can look forward to a future of more food and water contamination, increased asthma rates, and tenfold jumps in death from heat exposure, the report found. The report also devotes an entire chapter to the mental health impacts of climate change, which are often symbiotic. Mental health issues can limit someone’s resilience in a disaster, making it more difficult to find shelter or access help, and living through a disaster can lead to depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a force that affects so many dimensions of health for so many people as climate change does,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
Get ready to start hearing the phrase “vector-borne disease” a lot more often. The Zika virus, which has caused thousands of cases of underdeveloped brains in babies, is a vector-borne disease that has been linked to climate change. Lyme disease and West Nile virus are two other examples common to the United States — and researchers predict they will become more widespread.
“We are going to see diseases in areas we haven’t seen them before,” said Juli Trtranj, another NOAA scientist who worked on the report. As the climate changes, more areas of the United States will be hospitable to the mosquitos and ticks — the vectors — that carry these diseases. In addition, the seasonal risk will start earlier and go later.
Indeed, the compound effects of climate change are seemingly endless. In a diagram of how climate change will impact water supply, everything from algal blooms to warming oceans plays a role.
Researchers even found that there is a likelihood that our food will become less nutritious as CO2 levels rise. Wheat, rice, and potatoes can all see diminishing protein content as CO2 concentration increases, which has “potentially negative implications for human nutrition,” the report states.
Of course, some of the effects are more straightforward.
“People who try to work outdoors will be unable to control their body temperature and will die,” John Holdren, a science and technology adviser to President Obama, said during the event Tuesday.