Commentary By: Savannah Scarborough, Follow South Jersey Intern
Awareness of the climate crisis is impertinent for individuals in our society due to temperature increases and weather changes currently burdening our world, especially vulnerable communities, and seriously threatening our wellness, especially our lung health.
Recent evidence warns that, even with our current efforts, climate change will increase ozone levels and cause the Earth’s temperature to rise in the coming years if society does make strong efforts to reduce it. The CDC states that climate change most definitely affects human health due to its effects on the air we breathe, making it harder to clean up ozone pollution (a harmful air pollutant), increasing the risk of particle pollution, and increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperature and weather patterns. Many of the shifts that occur are natural. However, since the 1800s, human activity has been the most significant driving factor of climate change. These activities are primarily shown through burning fossil fuels that produce heat-trapping gasses, including coal, oil, and gas.
The U.S. is the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas through fossil fuels, but producing and burning them releases carbon dioxide emissions that significantly contribute to climate change. Fossil fuels are formed from decomposing buried carbon-based organisms that died millions of years ago. Still, they create carbon-rich deposits that are extracted and burned for energy. Carbon-rich deposits make up 80 percent of the world’s energy.
Carbon dioxide traps heat in our atmosphere, which causes global warming. It has been proven by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that emissions from these fossil fuels are the root cause of climate change. In 2018, 89 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions came from fossil fuels and their industry.
Besides creating heat and stagnant air, climate change increases the risk of unhealthy ozone levels. According to the National Climate Assessment, ground-ozone levels can diminish lung function, increase hospital admission and emergency department visits for asthma, and increase premature death.
Ground-level ozone is often called smog and forms in the atmosphere when gasses emitted form when smokestacks (an industrial chimney that isolates hot toxic exhaust gasses or smoke) and tailpipes (the rear section of the exhaust system in a car) mix in the air. Along with this, the hotter weather and stagnant air increase the likelihood of ozone forming.
Particle pollution is created through hotter temperatures and lack of rainfall, increasing the risk of drought and wildfires. Wildfires are a huge source of extremely high particle levels and can spread hundreds of miles from where the fire occurred. Smoke exposure leads to acute or sudden onset respiratory illness, respiratory or cardiovascular hospitalizations, and medical visits for lung illnesses.
Lastly, exposure to increased amounts of allergens causes health problems for many people. When certain individuals are exposed to allergens and air pollutants, allergic reactions can become severe. So severe that people with existing pollution allergies may have an increased risk for acute respiratory illness and increased hospitalization visits. Scientists suggest staying away from physical or non-physical activity outside in areas with high pollution levels and allergens.
There are many ways to get involved in reducing future risks of climate change and helping reduce the current health impacts of climate change that are already occurring. Although it may seem like we are not seeing detrimental consequences of climate change, we are, especially within vulnerable communities.
First and foremost, our country needs to work to reduce the large amounts of heat-trapping gasses like carbon dioxide to decrease the negative effects of climate change. Active modes of transport like biking, walking, or skateboarding can help reduce traffic-related air pollution, as well as carpooling with family and friends or using public transport choices like the train or bus.
Another way to become active in reducing climate change is by saving energy in your home. Much of the electricity and heat we use in our homes are powered by coal, oil, and gas. You can use less energy by reducing your heating and cooling, switching to LED lightbulbs, washing your laundry with cold water, and hanging things to dry instead of using the dryer. If available, it is also very efficient to use solar panels to power your home rather than relying on coal, oil, and gas.
It is valuable to monitor air quality and to take tracking initiatives to pinpoint what areas are likely to reach unhealthy levels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index is an available tool to help track air quality and reduce exposure to physical activities in highly affected areas. The forecast is shown online through television stations, radio programs, along with newspapers.
Climate change occurring in our world is hazardous to human health, and many health impacts are already being felt worldwide. It is essential to take charge of the safety of our communities by protecting people’s health and quality of life and addressing these public health issues at large.
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