This article at CNN.com really got my attention this week:
Research presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in November suggests that pollen counts are going to get a lot worse in the next 30 years. Dr. Leonard Bielory showed predictions that pollen counts will more than double by 2040.
Bielory is part of an ongoing study at Rutgers University modeling what climate change has in store for pollen. The study analyzes various allergenic plants being grown in climate chambers modeling future conditions, and researchers are incorporating factors including weather patterns and changes in precipitation and temperature.
Pollen counts averaged 8,455 in the year 2000, and by 2040 they are expected to reach 21,735, according to this model. And the allergy season will begin earlier each year, too.
Researchers around the world have been using their laboratories and computers to create scenarios about man’s future on a planet whose climate is unmistakably changing. Whether we are talking about the effects on air and water quality, weather, agriculture and our food supply, the risk of wars as resources diminish and populations migrate away from coastal areas due to sea level rise, the major focus has been on the effects of climate change on human health.
None of the scenarios look good. When you consider that we are seeing this current, interglacial period coming to an abrupt end (the earth’s current glaciers are melting at astonishing speed), all we have are computer models. As last week’s thoroughly stunning announcement in Science made clear, humans are now in uncharted territory. (A summary of the findings — which should leave no doubt in any climate skeptic’s mind that modern human activity is the cause of this unprecedented event — is here.)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has explored the projected impacts of climate change on human health as the emission of greenhouse gases increases. You can get a feel of the likely scenarios on their website:
- Impacts From Heat Waves: Heat waves are the most common cause of weather related deaths, according to the EPA. “Excessive heat is more likely to impact populations in northern latitudes where people are less prepared to cope with excessive temperatures. Young children, older adults, people with medical conditions, and the poor are more vulnerable than others to heat-related illness.”
- Impacts From Extreme Weather Events: The United States has seen severe storms that have been unprecedented in number, size, and damage (Katrina and Sandy are just two) as well as the current severe drought that affects a large part of the country. But these extreme weather events have been happening all over the world. If you missed the evening news in 2012:
- Impacts From Reduced Air Quality: A warmer and moister atmosphere allows increases in ground-level ozone, fine particulate matter (air pollution), and airborne allergens. There is a reason why you shouldn’t go outside on “Ozone Action Days” in the summer: the air outside can literally kill you on those days if you have heart disease or chronic lung disease, including asthma.
- Impacts From Climate-Sensitive Diseases: Food-borne and water-borne pathogens are more likely with flooding from extreme storms and with coastal flooding from sea level rise. Animal-borne diseases — especially from ticks (Lyme disease is one) and mosquitoes (malaria, West Nile Encephalitis, etc) — are also of great concern. (See scenarios concerning malaria here.)
- Other Health Impacts: It appears that while some agricultural areas have already seen decline due to the changing climate, other new areas may open up for food production. How this will effect global food supply is unclear, though most scenarios demonstrate an overall decline in the production and transportation of food, and subsequent widespread malnutrition.
This topic is important enough to urge everyone to read the EPA website post, as well as other sources that focus on climate change. In fact, there may not be a single issue that’s more important than this one.