5 Ways Global Warming Affects Your Health

Scientists studying global warming say it's absolutely true that global warming will have an effect on your health. So don't shrug it off as a bigger issue that doesn't concern you--global warming touches everyone in some way. Here, five of the major health problems it causes:

Allergies and asthma. According to scientists, warmer conditions stimulate weeds more than they do other crops. In particular, excess carbon dioxide--which is released as a result of fossil fuels burning--promotes ragweed. The result? More misery for you during the warmer months. And not only is more ragweed growing, it's hanging around longer than it used to. "Allergy and asthma season has been extended 20 days on average over the last three or four decades," asserts Paul Epstein, MD, MPH, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment and Harvard Medical School. "Spring, summer and fall are lengthening in the northern hemisphere."

Heat and humidity. Excessive temperatures can be brutal. At best, they can drain you of energy and make you feel sluggish. At worst, they can kill, especially if they hit areas that don't normally get lots of heat and in which many people lack air conditioning. In the 1990s, a heat wave in Chicago killed hundreds, while a similar one in France led to thousands of fatalities.

Infectious disease. With oceans rapidly warming, more flooding is inevitable. Standing water is a haven for mosquitoes, which spread diseases such as encephalitis and West Nile virus. And, according to Epstein, viruses mature faster in warmer weather.

Fires and avalanches. Warmer temperatures cause tree-killing beetles to flourish. But lots of dead trees means an increased risk of forest fires, which release smoke and other carcinogens into the air and make it more difficult for you to breathe. Areas that have been deforested are also more vulnerable to avalanches in heavy rains.

Slip and falls. While winter has always presented accident risks, they're heightened as a result of global warming. As temperatures rise, the precipitation that hits the ground takes the form of rain rather then snow. But overnight, when temperatures dip, this rain freezes and turns to ice. The fallout? More slipping on sidewalks and an increase in car accidents.

If you're concerned about the environment, do your part in whatever way you can. Drive a hybrid, walk or bike to the supermarket, and turn down your thermostat.



Paul Epstein, M.D., M.P.H., Harvard University