By Hannah Stevens
As with any global crisis, it can be difficult to pinpoint the personal effects of climate change on yourself as an individual. Most of us understand that the climate crisis is affecting the health of our planet, that natural resources are diminishing, and that climate change will negatively affect the quality of life of generations to come. However, the effects of climate change have been creeping into our daily lives and will continue to do so until more people become aware of the signs and create solutions for reducing or preventing its personal effects.
It’s hard to imagine our children or grandchildren dealing with record heat waves or a limited water supply, but it can be even more difficult to wrap our brains around how climate change is affecting each of us – and the ones we love – on a daily basis. The truth is that you are affected by climate change from the moment you wake up in the morning to the second you go to sleep.
What Is Climate Change?
Climate change is the broad range of phenomena happening around the globe that are created predominantly by our burning of fossil fuels, which adds heat-trapping gases to our atmosphere. Such phenomena include global warming, ice mass and glacier loss, extreme weather events, and shifts in botanical blooming cycles.
The terms climate change and global warming are often mistakenly used interchangeably, however, global warming is actually a component of climate change. It’s a more specific term that refers to a long-term warming of the Earth beginning in the early 20th century, but even more notably since the late 1970s.
The overall picture of the climate change crisis is that our use of fossil fuels is throwing nature out of balance and destroying our planet, but here are some specific personal effects that climate change has on our day-to-day lives.
Carbon Monoxide Exposure
Carbon monoxide is probably best known for its potentially lethal effects around the home, with exposure occurring often from faulty appliances and poor ventilation. It is estimated that carbon monoxide, which is odorless and colorless, kills around 430 people every year. It should be noted, however, that carbon monoxide (CO) can interfere with the transport of oxygen via the blood whether you’re indoors or out. This can lead to long-term health problems such as cardiovascular disease and, in turn, contribute to an overall lower quality of life.
For instance, the discomfort and anxiety associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can disrupt your sleep cycle, leading to sleep deprivation. COPD develops slowly over time and is the result of prolonged exposure to harmful contaminants. Although smoking is the most prominent cause of COPD, environmental pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, are also common culprits.
The process of burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere, which traps heat that would otherwise escape into space. In addition, the presence of carbon monoxide affects the abundance of these gases, which include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, among others. Not only do these fossil fuel emissions contribute to the greenhouse effect, but they can cause respiratory diseases, such as asthma. In addition, the World Health Organization estimates that air pollution kills about seven million people each year worldwide.
The health effects of greenhouse gases not only affect us by contributing to physical disease but can also have negative effects on your mental health. A PNAS study revealed that warmer temperatures have been linked to a 2 percent increase in mental health issues, such as anxiety, stress, and even PTSD.
One issue that might be surprising to some is that climate change is impacting the composition of our fruits and vegetables. Since every person on Earth has to eat, it’s hard to ignore how this result of climate change affects each and every one of us on a daily basis. More specifically, carbon dioxide that accumulates in the atmosphere due to fossil fuels is actually making our food less nutritious. Extra carbon dioxide speeds up photosynthesis in plants, causing them to grow with more sugar content and less protein, zinc, calcium, and essential vitamins.
In addition, researchers at Harvard University predict that, if we don’t reduce carbon emissions as a global society, around 175 million additional people could develop a zinc deficiency and 122 million could develop a protein deficiency by the middle of the century, due to these physiological changes in plants.
Looking at the effects of climate change on an individual level can help bring more awareness to this global crisis. The more people who understand that the catastrophic effects of climate change that seem so far in the future are actually building within our homes and our lives on a daily basis right now, the more the climate change issue will hit home and stimulate action and change.