Global Warming and Human Health
One of the primary concerns of environmentalists today is global warming (also known as global climate change). Environmentalists advocate the use of renewable energy instead of fossil fuels and the development of technologies to mitigate the predicted impacts of global warming.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), global warming will increase the risk of human illness and death from temperature extremes and poor air quality, increase the frequency and strength of extreme weather events, and increase human exposure to vector-borne diseases.
First, heat extremes will lead to increased risk of heatstroke and dehydration. Besides the lethal effects of prolonged heat and humidity, heat waves are often accompanied by stagnant air, multiplying the risk of respiratory problems. Heat will also lead to more wildfires, which create smoke and air pollutants. Altogether, climate change will lead to increased exposure to ozone in smog, harmful particulate matter, and allergenic pollen. The EPA predicts increased rates of lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cardiovascular disease.
Second, extreme events such as floods, droughts, and storms threaten human health and safety by reducing the availability of safe drinking water and disrupting infrastructure.
Third, exposure to vector-borne diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas will increase the rate of disease. Many vectors are limited by climate ranges, so the geographic range of disease-carrying insects will expand as average temperatures increase (e.g., the range of ticks carrying Lyme disease and mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus).
People living in developing countries may be the most vulnerable to the health risks associated with global warming. Populations of concern include young children, pregnant women, and older adults. In addition, people of color, low-income, immigrants, and those with limited English proficiency will face the most health impacts due to high risk of exposure, socio-economic and educational factors, and higher prevalence of pre-existing medical conditions. Accordingly, many environmentalists embrace the concept of environmental justice, which is the fair treatment of all people, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.