People tend to think of climate or environmental change as something that will happen in the future. That’s not the case. Subtle but impactful changes have been taking place in the natural world for a long time, some of which have come with significant human consequences.
Pollution and excessive carbon emissions can create disease, destroy forests, and result in more natural disasters that claim lives and make entire communities unliveable. In this article, we take a look at how some of the consequences of environmental change are already here, and having a bigger impact than you think.
Air pollution is a nefarious source of danger in that you often won’t know you are experiencing it until damage has already been done. The long-term impacts of air pollution include cardiovascular distress, asthma, and a variety of different cancers. You don’t have to work in a factory or live in a city to experience these health ramifications either.
While densely populated areas are associated with higher levels of air pollution, the fact remains that about 7 billion people experience at least some air pollution. In other words, just about everyone.
Not all of them will experience heart or respiratory disease, but some will. And as the world becomes ever more industrialized and “developed,” the opportunity to find clear, untainted air diminishes.
Most experts now agree that human-induced climate change has resulted in a longer and more extreme forest fire season in certain parts of the world. The equation is pretty simple. Winter is getting shorter. Areas that experience the risk of forest fires rely on winter frost to keep moisture in the soil for a longer period of time.
When the ground thaws for the last time, that moisture that was banked in winter begins to go away immediately. This is particularly true when summer starts. Summers are observed to be longer and hotter than they used to be, naturally facilitating the conditions required for forest fires.
While forest management does work to limit the risk of wildfire, little can be done to reduce the impact of an inhospitable climate.
Increased Risk of Disease
The same factors that increase the risk of forest fires are also supporting the spread of insect born diseases. Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and other mosquito/tick-borne illnesses are encountered primarily in the summer. However, as the line between seasons blurs the risk for insect-related illnesses increases.
Fewer frosts mean insects are able to increase their active period, spreading deadly diseases into parts of the United States that have never previously encountered them. The increase isn’t modest either. Between 2004—2018, the number of tick and mosquito bites in the United States more than doubled.
Granted, ecological fluctuations are normal and not themselves proof of climate change doing its sinister work. However, as insect season continues to come earlier and earlier, it becomes clear that a dangerous, permanent change is taking place.
Diminished Capacity for Food Production
Food production is also directly influenced by climate change. This is the result of several factors. For one thing, longer, dryer warm seasons make it difficult to grow vegetables effectively. This, coupled with the increase of heat-born plant blight, eroding topsoil, and an increase in acid rain make farmable land less effective than it used to be.
Farmable acreage has also been steadily decreasing for decades. The average American requires about half an acre of farmable land to get their annual caloric intake. Vegetarians need more than two acres. With around 800 million farmable acres active in the United States, we are still able to meet that need.
However, with farmable acres shrinking at a rate of almost one million per year, this won’t always remain the case. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be food shortages in the near future. The United States already imports a significant amount of meat and produce. That’s why you can buy shrimp in Illinois, apples all year round.
However, the reduction in farmable land will eventually catch up with us. The tragic irony? As nations lose the ability to feed themselves, they will need to rely more and more on fuel-draining imports that further hasten the onset of climate change.
While the average citizen can’t revitalize agriculture, they can do their part by supporting local farms, and even growing produce themselves at home to diminish the amount of energy needed to put food on their plate.
Of course, not everyone feels stressed out about climate change. In fact, around 45% of people claim not to even believe in human-caused climate change. However, those that do often report feeling a sense of powerless foreboding that often accompanies issues you know about but are powerless to change.
Some people are changing their lives in the face of this stress. About half of all college students report that they are planning on having fewer children than they otherwise would have.
Unfortunately, climate anxiety doesn’t always result in the type of actions that could slow environmental change. Studies indicate that when people feel too helpless in the face of an issue, they shut down and resign themselves to inevitability.
In other words, the same people who are rethinking the way they plan their families may not be making full use of more moderate climate action solutions. Reusable bags. Renewable forms of energy. Meatless diets. Locally sourced food habits. Changes that are considered highly impactful from an ecological perspective.
It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of climate change. But while we can’t undo the damage already done, we can make a brighter future by changing our habits. The time for action is now. Remember that even relatively small changes can make a big difference in your carbon footprint. Buy local foods. Reduce your meat intake. Use reusable bags. Buy organic foods when you can.
Many sustainable habits also happen to be good for your health. By finding ways to enjoy a sustainable lifestyle, you can make a meaningful impact on the future.