Effects of Global Warming on Humans
The fact that global warming poses a threat to the environment and wildlife has been a public concern for years. Lesser known is the degree of global warming's direct impact on humans around the world. Research has been conducted to explore the effect on biological, ecological, and geological systems, but less research has focused on how humans specifically are affected by global climate change.
Some of the many factors that directly influence human lives include:
- Extreme weather.
- Ozone depletion.
- Spread of infectious diseases.
- Changes to food and water supplies.
The humans most directly affected by these issues are those living in poverty and marginalized communities. Not only are these individuals more likely to experience the negative consequences of global warming, but are also less likely to have the financial resources to deal with these issues.
As a result of these changes, the World Health Organization estimates that at least 160,000 lives have been lost since 1950. Other experts, like the Global Humanitarian Forum, believe that number is much higher and estimate that over 300,000 deaths occur annually as a result of global warming. Additionally, this organization suggests that the global economy loses around $125 billion. This article takes a closer look at the global warming threats facing humans around the world.
The health impacts of global climate change are divided into three specific categories:
- Those caused by climate changes to ecological systems.
- Direct effects.
- Indirect effects.
The health issues that result from ecological systems changes are often secondary effects of events like changes in agricultural production, coastal ecosystem production, and mosquito population size. The global warming events that directly influence human health include: droughts, air pollution, natural disasters, and heat waves. Indirectly, human health is affected by conflicts over natural resources (particularly fresh water), forced resettlement, mental issues after disaster survival, and increasing levels of poverty.
As the climate becomes warmer, dengue- and malaria-carrying mosquitos are able to rapidly multiply and infect thousands of unsuspecting victims. Additionally, food is at risk of contamination in warmer climates, resulting in increased diarrheal disease which often kills children, particularly those under 5 years of age. Crop production is also reduced, leading to increased malnutrition and even starvation in extreme cases. Additionally, increased temperatures often result in increased pollutants in the air, which has been linked to asthma and other respiratory problems. Global warming also allows for faster and wider spread of infectious diseases.
Human Settlement Impacts
Community location is also at risk as a result of global warming. This is particularly true of coastal regions, which are threatened by continuously rising sea levels. Rising sea levels are particularly detrimental on small islands as people living in these areas have no alternatives for resettlement.
Within coastal communities, the poorest individuals tend to live in the floodplains. When flooding does occur due to increasing natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis, the poorest individuals most often lose their homes. Unfortunately these people are less likely to have home insurance, savings accounts, or access to credit in order to overcome the disasters. Estimates suggest that millions of people will suffer sea level rise flooding by 2080. This will disproportionately affect large urban areas. Currently, approximately 66% of cities with over 5 million inhabitants can be found in low-lying coastal regions.
Climate security is a term used to describe threats and insecurity to a country due to the effects of climate change. These changes often make an already difficult situation worse, which can lead to violence and instability in international relations. As global warming continues to cause sea level rise, unpredictable weather patterns (like heavy rains), drought, desertification, and lack of access to water sources, inhabitants of the most affected regions will likely take part in environmental migrations as they search for safer homes. These large-scale migrations are expected to provoke violent conflict as groups of people begin fighting for access to scarce resources.
Researchers have already identified several instances in which global warming and climate change have resulted in conflict. For example, the Syrian Civil War began after approximately 1.5 million people sought new homes because of drought and crop and livestock failure. The Somali Civil War has also been connected to extreme heat waves and drought. The same is true of the War in Darfur and the Islamist Insurgency in Nigeria. Researchers have calculated that for every standard deviation temperature increase, there is a 4% increase in interpersonal violence and a 14% increase in intergroup violence. History shows that this pattern of climate change followed by conflict has been happening since before the preindustrial age.
Effect of Global Warming on Sources of Energy
Just as global warming and climate change can negatively influence access to food and water, it also has an impact on access to energy resources. Thermal power stations, which use fossil fuel derived heat energy to create electricity, require freshwater for cooling. As freshwater becomes more scarce due to drought, the demand becomes more pronounced. Additionally, as temperatures continue to increase, thermal power stations produce electricity less efficiently, which requires burning more fossil fuels to maintain output levels.
Oil and natural gas deposits are often found off of coastal areas. Higher occurrences of hurricanes, flooding, cyclones, and tropical storms threaten the infrastructure used to extract these resources. In the post-Hurricane Katrina Gulf of Mexico, 126 oil and gas stations were destroyed and another 183 were damaged. This disruption in extraction often results in increased prices for consumers, which again has a more detrimental impact on those individuals living in poverty.
The same natural disasters that threaten the oil and gas industry also work against nuclear energy. Because salt water causes corrosion to processing plants, freshwater must be utilized. When freshwater is unavailable, explosions, nuclear meltdowns, and leaked radioactive materials are all likely to occur. This was seen in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Increased temperatures have also forced other nuclear power plants to shut down over safety concerns, as in France in 2003, 2006, and 2009.
Even renewable energy sources such as hydroelectricity are not safe from the effects of global warming. Hydroelectricity relies on a large amount of freshwater to run over dams in order to move turbines and produce energy. Decreases in water availability mean decreases in energy production at these sites as well. Research conducted along the Colorado River has shown that an increase in temperature of 2° Celsius results in a 10% decline in rainfall. In Brazil, for example, hydroelectric energy production is expected to decrease by 7% by the year 2100 due to global warming.
The evidence is clear and should not be ignored. Global climate change and warming threaten the lives of plants, animals, and people. If governments and industries do not come together soon to reverse these effects, it may be too late.