Hopefully, you got a chance to take a physical and mental summer break from many of the important health issues we all care so much about. With the kids heading back to school and parents getting back into the swing of things, here are some significant developments about air pollution and climate change that you may have missed while you stepped away from the news cycle.
New research on air pollution showed that the pollutants we breathe daily may be as bad for our lungs as smoking cigarettes. It’s long been known that air pollution makes heart and respiratory diseases worse. A study reported in JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) examined how air pollution increases the likelihood of developing emphysema, the malady also known as “smoker’s disease.”
Public health researchers from the University of Michigan, University of Washington, and Columbia University who studied almost 6,000 people in six US metropolitan regions found that long-term exposure to common air pollutants was “significantly associated” with increased occurrence of emphysema and worsening lung function. “Ambient air pollution is a major risk factor for poor health worldwide,” the researchers concluded. In addition to emphysema, “there is elevated risk of death” associated with air pollutants like ozone (O3) and fine particulates, both of which result from long-term exposure to traffic-related pollution.
Researchers studied adults, whose lungs are more developed and should be more resilient. But, it’s fair to assume that the impact on the less mature lungs of children could be even greater.
Another report looked at the climate crisis’ impact on food and nutrition. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) has raised red flags about how much harder it will be to grow food across much of the world due to increased temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, drought, and severe weather events. In addition to limiting how much food can be grown, climate change is also reducing the nutritional quality of the crops being produced, the report’s authors found.
Samuel Myers, a principal research scientist at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and director of the Planetary Health Alliance, said climate change is leading to significant nutritional deficiencies in protein and in minerals like zinc and iron that would normally exist in the food we eat and feed our kids. Why does that matter? “Zinc deficiency affects the immune system and increases vulnerability to malaria, lung infections, and deadly diarrheal diseases, claiming the lives of some 30,000 children younger than five each year,” he said. “Protein deficiency causes stunting and increases infant mortality. Iron deficiency is linked to nearly 60,000 deaths and 34 million “life years” lost to disability or premature death every year, and can also result in decreased work capacity, reduced IQ and anemia.”
Myers concludes that, “Unless governments dramatically step up their emissions-reduction efforts, nutritional deficiencies and their associated burdens are set to become even more severe and widespread.” He warned, “We cannot wait to act any longer.”
Historic Heat Waves
Meanwhile, you may have heard about how historic heat waves that baked much of the Northern Hemisphere this summer, but this summer was extreme. Yes, Houston is used to hot temperatures. But not 100 degrees, which is the temp it hit on several days. Europe suffered through two weeks of broiling temperatures, an uncommon occurrence for that northern continent. Alaska got so hot that the waters were almost boiling salmon alive, while ice that used to cover the Arctic Circle almost completely melted.
Unfortunately, these conditions are likely to get worse. This study predicts that “the annual numbers of days with heat indices exceeding 105 degrees are projected to triple,” and that 25 percent of the US will start reaching unprecedented heat indexes regularly. Plus, extreme heat events could last twice as long as normal as both global average surface temperatures soar and humidity spikes.
Finally, Some Good News!
Fortunately, to keep our spirits bolstered, amazing climate change teen activist Greta Thunberg is sailing across the Atlantic Ocean is en route to the UN Climate Summit in NYC. She could have flown, but she wanted to minimize the climate impact of her trip as much as possible. Her zero-emissions,60-foot ship will spend two weeks on the ocean powered only by solar panels and sails that proclaim, “Unite Behind the Science.”
If she can keep sailing, so can we! On September 20, three days before the summit, Moms Clean Air Force will stand with Greta, and our children all across the country, to demand transformative action to address our climate emergency. And we’re inviting you and your family to strike with us!