Three Startling Ways Climate Change Could Affect Your Health

October 15, 2013; 8:51 PM ET
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While debates over climate change's existence and causes continue, researchers around the world are postulating the possible health risks a changing climate poses to humanity.

Wide-ranging health dangers are being predicted, including increased deaths due to carbon emissions, exposure to carcinogens in lakes and increased infections of certain diseases.

@AltCon tweeted: "Don't just treat the symptom - treat the cause - Toxins from algae in Lake Erie post threat to drinking water http://fxn.ws/1ck8mba"

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View of Tiananmen Gate, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, in smog. Photo by Flickr user Antelope1754

1. Lives could be saved by reducing CO2 emissions

New research estimates that half of a million lives would be saved each year by 2030 if climate change reduction policies were enacted.

Carbon emissions are not only harmful to the atmosphere but also create air pollutants that can affect humans. The study was published recently in the Nature Climate Change journal. In a variation from most climate research, this study aims to present the health benefits of reducing carbon emissions rather than the harrowing effects of the changing climate.

Researchers hope their work provides incentives for climate change action.

The researchers deduced their conclusions from a greenhouse mitigation strategy the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) proposed in its most recent report. This particular strategy to combat climate change, named "Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5," recommends a global price set to carbon to decrease its use. By establishing this price in the global markets, it is predicted that fossil fuel use would become less common and replaced by nuclear and renewable energy.

With the moderate reductions in carbon emissions outlined in this report, the study hypothesizes that the decreased pollutants would result in a half of a million lives a year being spared from the diseases these conditions threaten by 2030, with numbers increasing exponentially thereafter.

Photo by Flickr user Mark Sadowski

2. Warm, stagnant waters encourage toxic algae blooms

In the summer of 2013, 21 states across the U.S. closed lakes and beaches because of harmful toxin levels from algal blooms.

While most aren't harmful and play an integral role in an aquatic ecosystem, certain algae are toxic. The most common variety is cyanobacteria, most often referred to as blue-green algae (although it can be seen in a variety of colors.)

Algae growth is spurred by fertilizer and manure runoff, faulty septic systems and consumer lawn fertilizer.

The toxic algae growths have been historically found in the Midwest and the Great Lakes, but are reportedly spreading across the United States.

Health concerns arising from these algae growths can vary from asthma-like symptoms, vomiting, diarrhea and irritated skin. It is also believed to be a carcinogenic.

The rising temperatures and stagnant water from drought act as an accelerant for the algae, multiplying their numbers. In the study, Hans Paerl, professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences at the University of North Carolina, was quoted as saying, "Global warming and intensification of major storms and droughts play major roles in the spread of toxic blue-green algal blooms worldwide."

These warnings were issued based on the information outlined in the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center and Resource Media's joint report, "Toxic Algae: Coming Soon to a Lake Near You?"

The report insists that this issue should be handled as "a nationwide water quality problem" rather than isolated local issue.

Since there is no nationwide monitoring service, Resource Media has a website to map the algae spread via the issued warnings and advisories by governmental agencies. While not a comprehensive list due to a lack of regular government testing, the results present a clearer picture of increasing danger from this toxic hazard.

With freshwater toxic algae currently being found in every mainland state, it's important to stay aware of the dangers and the likelihood of it becoming more common.

Naegleria fowleri. Photo by Flickr user marsmet501

3. Could more amoeba infections be on the way from rising temperatures?

Some fear that higher temperatures may increase the likelihood of certain amoeba infections.

In the summer of 2013, a brain-eating amoeba found in warm lake waters infected four children in the U.S. Three of the infected children died as a result.

The amoeba, Naegleria Fowleri, is found in warm waters and traditionally has not been common in colder climates. However, it is feared that rising water temperatures may result in an increased number of infections.

When interviewed about the infections, Dr. Jennifer Cope, medical epidemiologist at the CDC, said, "We don't have data right now to show that the infections are increasing, but just by the virtue of the fact that it's a thermophillic organism and we're seeing warmer temperatures, I think just put those two together. It certainly is something we are concerned about and we will be paying attention to."

The future of climate change research

Climate research is thriving in order to isolate tangible effects on humanity to spur political and social movement.

The IPCC's most recent report asserts that the climate is changing as a result of human-induced events. While many detractors of the report argue that the evidence to support their claims is unsubstantiated, the projected effects of these conclusions are startling and profound.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Erin Cassidy at cassidye@accuweather.com. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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