It’s Earth Day again, and it’s appropriate to discuss human health and diseases that are resulting from global climate change. Oh, no, you say. Here comes the preachin’. But it ain’t preachin’ no more, folks. It’s here.
In the United States, we are just starting to feel the effects of climate change, but the majority of the rest of the planet has been gravely affected.
We must take our heads out of the sand and acknowledge that the extremes of weather change have been happening in the Lower 48 as well as other continents, especially in Africa below the Sahara desert and southern Asia.
An informative and realistic article, “Globalization, Climate Change and Human Health” appeared in the April 4 New England Journal of Medicine. The Australian doctor author pretty well summarized the diverse issues in eight pages.
Among his points: “The complex nature of climate change and its environmental and social manifestations results in diverse risks to human health.”
He goes on to write: “The processes of global change are more systemic, involving disruption and depletion” (not just pollution). One example would be “the regional trends in climate (rising temperatures and declining rainfall or drought) and a positive relationship with childhood stunting in Kenya since 1975” because food yields and nutritional health are impaired.
An article in the April 16 Star Tribune quoted the UNICEF director on stunting.
“Stunted doesn’t mean simply short. The child’s brain never develops properly. Irrevocably. That’s it. You can’t fix it later. You can fix underweight. You can’t fix stunted after age 2.”
Stunting comes primarily from failure to give children enough vitamin A, iron and folic acid when developing in the womb and a balanced diet with clean drinking water in the first 2 years of life. More than 25 percent of children under 5 worldwide are permanently “stunted from malnutrition,” with 48 percent of all children younger than 5 in India affected.
Indicators of early health effects of climate change include increases in annual deaths from extreme heat, both in high- and low-income countries; increases in deaths and injuries from rising weather disasters; extensions in the geographic ranges of insect-borne infections due to warming and longer summers; and increases in the prices of foods, especially in vulnerable, food-insecure regions.
Eastern Africa would be a prime example because the wealthier nations — such as China, South Korea and Middle East oil countries where water shortage is becoming crucial — are making land-grabbing purchases of fertile areas.
Air pollution by particulates from coal burning and diesel fumes is another dimension of the medical issue. China has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases since 2007, and recent air alerts in Beijing were graphic. The British medical journal Lancet reported that 1.2 million premature deaths in China were attributed to air pollution, called ambient particulate matter.
We have the seeds of similar complications closer to home. Kentucky and Tennessee are fighting over water rights to the Tennessee River because of shortages. How long and how far can the Colorado River run? Water shortages have recently been reported in the Star Tribune in at least two different Minnesota areas.
In the April 3 Winona Daily News, an article reported that a farmer’s well in Sparta, Wis., situated next to a frac sand mine and processing plant, ran dry twice. The mine’s estimated water use is 1 million gallons a day.
The current diesel particulate levels in Winona County are reported by the Clean Air Task Force to be 45 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency recommended to be safe. If we are going to experience hundreds of frac sand diesel trucks coming in and out of Winona each day, the levels will rise precipitously. Diesel fumes are unquestionably carcinogenic, according the World Health Organization, and “probably” carcinogenic per our EPA.
I’ll refrain from repeating the entire discussion that all sand contains silica particles, which cause the lung disease silicosis and lung cancer, as well as aggravate other lung problems like asthma. What is in the air is blown everywhere, literally worldwide. Diesel particulates were found in glacier crevices as seen in the documentary “Chasing Ice,” filmed over years. It elegantly demonstrated the loss of glaciers in several arctic locales, including Glacier National Park.
Even food sources may need re-evaluation. About one-fourth of greenhouse gases emanate from red-meat producing ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats in the form of methane gas from their flatulence. Funny, but no joke.
Clean water and air are crucial to good health, which is cruelly evident in the illnesses and disease in countries — whether First or Third World. We must take care of them now, not just for our children, but for us, too.
We can change it. The prestigious McKnight Foundation just ponied up $25 million to further develop wind energy. I’ll underscore what others have creatively pondered — what if we could harness the voluminous wind energy of politicians and their jaw motion? Those could at last produce some tangible, beneficial results, instead of empty promises?