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Affects of Global Warming on Human Health

Throughout the world, the presence of particular diseases and other threats to human health depend largely on the local climate. Extreme variation in temperature can directly, and indirectly, cause the loss of human life. The threat of a gradual increase in temperature could be catastrophic to the world, as we know it. As recently as 1999, a heat wave killed more than 250 people in Chicago alone (Union of Concerned Scientists). Many right off such an event as a natural disaster. However, scientist warn the average global temperature has increase 0. 5  F in the past 40 years.

This is half of the total increase in surface temperature, 1F, since the late 19th century. At its current rate, the global temperature could rise 2 to 6F in the next 100 years (Union of Concerned Scientist). Such a drastic increase in the rate of temperature increase is due to the industrial revolution. In the past 40 years, the world has seen a drastic increase in population and the use of fossil fuels (gasoline, oil, coal or natural gas). These fuels are used to run our cars, heat and cool our homes, manufacture goods in our factories and to ship goods for worldwide consumption.

The focus, until lately, has been to produce maximum product at a minimum price to maximize profit. Little to no care was taken to minimize the amount of fossil fuels used in the production of goods. Recently, it has become evident that such practices lead to the production of greenhouse gases. Whenever fossil fuels are burned for energy, greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide builds up in the earth’s atmosphere (Union of Concerned Scientists). Another reason why greenhouse gases have increased is due to the decrease in the amount of plant life, commonly called deforestation.

Plant life is the only thing known on earth to consume carbon dioxide. However, due to the need of raw materials (wood and paper pulp), industrial nations tend to cut down more trees than they can reforest (Fuller 454). Also, toxins produced as a by-product of industrialization have killed plant life. Therefore, a greater amount of carbon dioxide is being produced at the same time less carbon dioxide is being consumed, leading to dangerous consequences. The combination of pollutants and deforestation has lead to what is commonly called the Greenhouse Effect.

The term “Greenhouse Effect” comes from the understanding that pollutants thickening the earth’s atmosphere keep heat trapped in the atmosphere. Thereby leading to an increase in the earth’s temperature, or Global Warming. Although, a increase of a few degrees over hundreds of years doesn’t seem like much to some people, the variance is great enough to allow some deadly bacteria to thrive and disease to spread. Moreover, warmer temperatures can increase air and water pollution, which could harm human health.

In the past few years, there has been an increasing amount of reports that correspond with these theories. Worldwide, there have been reports of cases indicating a spread of mosquito-born infectious disease, heat stroke and asthma / respiratory disease. It is believed that the 1F change in average global temperature has much to do with such harm to human health. For example, there are an increasing number of reports of mosquito-born, infectious disease in areas that have not been previously exposed.

Such cases include a malaria outbreak in the summer of 1997 in the Kenyan highlands and a spread of dengue and yellow fever in the Andes Mountain of Colombia, previously limited to below 3,300 feet, is now seen as high as 5,600 feet (Union of Concerned Scientists). Many countries from Tanzania and Indonesia, to as close as Mexico, have also reported outbreaks of such infectious disease. The outbreaks are a result of an increase of temperature in areas which mosquitoes previously could not breed.

The populations of these areas are also more susceptible to these diseases because the disease is foreign to their immune systems. A lack of natural enemies in such areas also allows the mosquito population to grow more quickly. The result in Kenya was the death of hundreds of people. Rodents also thrive in warm weather. In the case of unusually mild winter weather in Australia in 1993, and again in 1994, the breeding season for rodents and insects was extended; then a wet summer and a long, mild autumn increased the food supply for these pests.

In July 1993, mice ravaged crops in south Australia, costing farmers $100 million (Leggett, 115). In the worst hit areas, there were more than 100 mice per square meter, approximately a square yard. Fortunately, the lose of money was greater than the lose of life in Australia. Such an infestation could have brought a wave of rodent carried disease. The past few years have brought record heat to many parts of the world, including the United States. Southern Africa has reported 1985-1995 to be the warmest and driest decade on their record (Union of Concerned Scientists).

Glasgow, Montana reported no sub-zero days in the year 1997, a first. However, the greatest impact is felt when hundreds of lives are lose due to a heat wave. Such was the case in Chicago, Illinois in the summer of 1999. Over 250 died due to heat related complications. The most susceptible to hotter temperatures are children and the elderly. Their bodies are not capable of the increased cardiovascular activity needed to cool the body in times of extreme heat (Buchholz, 59). The result is heat exhaustion and respiratory problems.

Another cause of respiratory problems is the increase in ozone level. In times of great heat, the ozone concentration at ground level can increase. However, the greatest increase in temperature is not in the midwest United States, it is at the polar caps. A British Antarctic Survey in 1994 reported that air temperatures at the British Faraday Base on the Antarctic Peninsula have increased 0. 5 degrees C [0. 9 degrees F] each decade since 1947. These are the fastest temperature changes recorded since the British began making such measurements 130 years ago. ]

In 1994, a Swiss study of the length of 48 valley glaciers, over the period 1850 to 1990, revealed that all 48 glaciers have diminished in length by 0. 86 to 1. 3 meters per year (Union of Concerned Scientists). None of these reports, by themselves, are persuasive; but combined with several hundred others, a picture emerges of a planet that is feeling the effects of warming. Climate Map from Global Warming: Early Warning Signs webpage At the current rate, the number of days the temperature in Manhattan goes over 90F could be 48 in the next century. Currently, the average is 15 days.

In Atlanta, Georgia, studies estimate the average number of heat related deaths will rise from the current of 78 a year to 96 to 247 a year (Buchholz, 72). Ironically, the lower average of 96 deaths will only be possible if more people are able to purchase air conditioning units. Thereby increasing the use of fossil fuels for energy. The cause of global warming and its effects on human welfare is evident. We all know that the earth is getting warmer and why. However, we live at a time that for every person on earth, we emit almost four tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a year.

The majority of Americans commute to work, alone, in automobiles that use “so much gasoline that it releases more than three times its own weight in carbon dioxide… ” (Revkin, 17). There is much pressure on the government to create legislation that will save the environment as well as keep our energy rates low and stable. Such legislation is almost impossible. A good first step for the government would be to create effective, mass public transportation such as the train and subway systems of Europe. However, we the residents of this planet, also must do our part to reduce our role in polluting the environment.

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