Four ways climate change is affecting our health—and what we can do about it | 1/6/2020 | Staff
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Climate change is already affecting our health, even if we don't think about it much, says a University of Alberta public health expert.

"People think about climate change as only impacting those in the Arctic or on the coasts or in low-lying places, but what has become very clear is ... it's not just affecting certain areas or populations—it's already impacted every one of us," said Sherilee Harper, a professor with the U of A's School of Public Health.

Harper - Representative - United - Nations - Intergovernmental

Harper, a Canadian representative on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, studied the links between Earth's changing climate and human health as a lead author on the United Nations' Special Report on Climate Change.

In assessing scientific data from around the globe, she identified four major ways climate change affects human health and warns that the impacts are only going to worsen.

Heat - Days - Number - Severity - Worldwide

Extreme heat days have increased in number and severity worldwide, which brings health challenges like heat stroke and dehydration. While impacts vary by age, gender, location and socioeconomic factors, the elderly and those living in urban areas will experience the highest heat-related death rates in this century, she said.

One 2018 study showed elderly people suffered an increase of 220 million heat wave exposures in certain areas of the world, breaking the previous record of 209 million set in 2015. People with chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, respiratory illness, kidney and heart disease can also expect their symptoms to be aggravated by high temperatures.

Temperatures - Conditions - Wildfires - Years - Alberta

Rising temperatures mean drier forest conditions, resulting in more wildfires over the past 20 years, including in Alberta, Harper said. Wildfire smoke results in emergency room visits to treat respiratory and cardiovascular distress; environmental fallout like poor air, water quality and supply; and for people fleeing fires or fighting on the front lines, hazards like burns and post-traumatic stress...
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