Mey Akashah TweetChats on climate change and health

Climate change and human health

Image from Climate Change Emergency Medical Response.org

Global climate change is often viewed solely as an environmental concern – a phenomenon caused by environmental changes that has environmental impacts. Rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storms and droughts immediately spring to mind when climate change is mentioned, but environmental impacts are only one part of the story. The human impacts of climate change are many and varied, but are often conveyed in abstract terms or as problems that affect “other” people. Why does this matter? Because urgent action is required to mitigate the pace of climate change, as well as to adapt to the “new normal.” Action will only be taken when it is demanded. The impacts of climate change on health could serve as a lightning rod to motivate such action by highlighting and personalizing the risks of inaction to all, regardless of which country you call home.

Join Mey for a TweetChat on climate change and human health

Want to know more about how climate change affects human health? Join Mey for a TweetChat on the health impacts of climate change hosted by HCHLITSS at 8pm EST, Thursday September 13. You can also follow Mey on WordPress and Twitter, or leave a comment below to share your thoughts on how climate change will affect health in the future.

Mey Akashah

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Harvard Researchers Discover Link between Climate Change and Ozone Depletion; Skin cancer now on the list of climate change impacts

Harvard Study Links Climate Change and Cancer

Harvard Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, James G. Anderson, and his team of researchers have studied the ozone layer and climate for more than 25 years. However, their most recent discovery reveals an unexpected, and disturbing, link between climate change and human health: Climate change contributes to ozone loss, increasing the risk of skin cancer across the globe.
 

Climate Change, Clouds, and Cancer

Anderson et al.’s paper, published in the journal Science on July 26, describes how thunderstorms can push water vapor much higher into the stratosphere than previously thought, that this water vapor causes stable chlorine and bromine compounds to breakdown into ozone-destroying free radicals. Further, the increased frequency and intensity of these storms due to climate change means that we will be exposed to more UV radiation. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US – there are 1 million new cases each year, and the rate is growing. More UV radiation as a result of climate change would push this number even higher.

Ozone depletion

Atmospheric layers

Reproduced from NC State University

The relationship between ozone loss and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other chlorine and bromine containing compounds is well established. Sunlight causes these compounds to break down and release chlorine or bromine free radicals, which then catalyze the conversion of ozone (O3) into oxygen (O2). Less well known is that the presence of water vapor and higher temperatures also contribute to the breakdown of chlorine and bromine compounds, thus increasing the rate of ozone loss. Higher temperatures and the greater availability of water vapor in the stratosphere means that ozone is destroyed faster.

Climate change impact

Storm clouds have the potential to increase water vapor concentrations at lower ozone-layer altitudes – a process Anderson refers to as “convective injection.” This is already in occurrence, as Anderson notes in this Harvard Gazette article, and such storms don’t need to be unusually large. It is further anticipated that climate change will increase both the frequency and intensity of such storms, resulting in more water vapor being pushed further into the ozone layer, and more often.

 
The bottom line: Climate change has one more way to damage human health than previously thought (as though the list weren’t long enough already). So remember, wear sunscreen, do what you can to reduce global warming, and let others know if you found this post useful. Nobody likes cancer.
 
 
Mey Akashah
 

Upcoming post: Climate change, microclimates, and the importance of biodiversity to human health

I’m currently in Costa Rica, marveling at the depth and diversity of both the culture and natural environment. Costa Rica has designated a significant proportion of its territory as national parks, preserving its beauty for years to come. Tourism is thus a major source of national revenue, as people like me journey to the rain forests, cloud forests, beaches and other natural wonders simply to admire them.

The biodiversity found in Costa Rica also offers a potential bounty for human health – as noted by my colleague, Aaron Bernstein, during our course at the Harvard School of Public Health last semester, the majority of our medicines are derived from natural sources — most especially from those plants and animals found in rain forests and coral reefs, as they offer the greatest biodiversity densities.

What is also amazing about Costa Rica is the myriad microclimates, and the unique plants and animals found in each ecosystem, offering countless possibilities for improving human health. Of concern, however, is the fact that these microclimates are so very susceptible to small environmental changes.  The creatures within these microclimates have become specialized over time to develop a microclimate-specific ecology. In the face of global environmental change, generally, and climate change, specifically, three questions immediately spring to mind:

  1. How resilient will these microclimate ecosystems be to climate and other environmental change?
  2. What potential benefits to human health will be lost when these stresses overcome such ecosystem’s ability to withstand them?
  3. What interventions can be made in the short- to medium-term to protect and preserve these environments in the face of such challenges?

Obviously, this is a short prelude to a larger post and discussion, but any thoughts you might have before I write said post would be warmly welcomed.

Mey Akashah

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