Climate change wields effects on population health

Ever since the industrial revolution, the Earth’s temperature has been continually increasing, having risen by over 1°C globally between the 1850s and today. As the world continues to economically develop, climate change is becoming more and more of an issue, especially where human health is concerned.  

Researchers at the Princeton University have found that as the climate increases, heatwaves will become more frequent. Although this might be celebrated by some and, for the average person, harmless, records show that heatwaves can be extremely dangerous for particular groups such as the over 65s and those with certain illnesses, including type two diabetes and organ disease.

Take the summer heatwave of 2003, for example. That year across Europe, more than 70 000 excess deaths were recorded, proving that a rise in global temperature is, and continues to be, a silent killer.

Elizabeth Robinson, Professor of Environmental Economics at Reading University, suggests that the UK is particularly vulnerable to extreme heat due to “the proportion of people with certain existing conditions, demographics, and the high rate of urbanisation and low rate of air conditioning.”

According to the Met Office, in the last decade the UK has been on average 0.9°C warmer than the period 1961-1990. This is a huge temperature increase for such a short period of time and the effect this is having on British seasons should not be underestimated.

During August last year, temperatures exceeding 34°C were recorded in some areas of the UK for six consecutive days, leading to an excess of 2,500 deaths between June and August.

But it’s not just heat harming our health. In recent years, global warming has led to an increase in flooding throughout the UK. As the climate becomes warmer, so does the ocean, causing it to expand in volume, leading inland water, such as rivers and streams, to overflow.

On top of this, global warming also increases rainfall which is the greatest cause of flooding in the UK – a warmer climate encourages water from land and sea to evaporate, making rainfall more extreme. 

In England, one in six properties are at risk of flooding and in the last ten years, thirty-six Britons have died as a result of this. But death, whilst terrifying, isn’t the only threat that UK flooding poses towards public health.

An investigation launched by BMC Public Health found that victims of widespread flooding during the UK Winter of 2013/14 were more vulnerable to long term mental health problems than those unaffected.

Flood victims were found to be more vulnerable to depression by 20.1%, anxiety by 28.3% and PTSD 36.2% whilst those not directly flooded but whose lives were disrupted by the conditions, were more likely to have depression by 9.6%, anxiety by 10.7% and PTSD by 15.2%.  

In the words of television doctor Hilary Jones, “Climate change is becoming a tragic and avoidable health burden on families, support services, and will heap pressure on NHS services already pushed to the limit.”

Photo credit: Markus Spiske / Unsplash