Alas, said Dr. Jackson, emeritus professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, “Human beings respond only to what is a threat to them at the moment. Californians are now much more aware — the fires got people’s attention.” The wildfire season is now starting much earlier and ending later as a result of a warming climate, an international research team reported in The New England Journal of Medicine in November.
Dr. Frumkin, emeritus professor at the University of Washington, told me, “Lots of people who don’t consider climate change a major problem relative to themselves do take it seriously when they realize it’s a health concern. Heat waves, for example, not only kill people, they also diminish work capacity, sleep quality and academic performance in children.”
“Our changing climate will have much more of an impact on people’s health over time,” Dr. Jackson said. People of all ages will develop respiratory allergies, and those who already have allergies can expect them to get worse, as plants and trees respond to a warmer climate and release their allergens in more places and for longer periods.
Infectious diseases carried by ticks, mosquitoes and other vectors also rise with a warming climate. Even small increases in temperature in temperate zones raise the potential for epidemics of Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, encephalitis and other tick-borne infections, as well as mosquito-borne West Nile disease, dengue fever and even malaria.
Climate change endangers the safety of foods and water supplies by fostering organisms that cause food poisoning and microbial contamination of drinking water. Extreme flooding and hurricanes can spawn epidemics of leptospirosis; just walking through floodwaters can increase the risk of this bacterial blood infection 15-fold.
These are just a smattering of the health risks linked to global warming. They are extensive and require both societal and individual efforts to minimize. Yes, society is changing, albeit slowly. The Biden administration has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. General Motors, the nation’s largest car manufacturer, announced it would dedicate itself to electric vehicles and other green energy initiatives, and Ford, Volkswagen and others are doing the same.
Lest you feel you can’t make a difference, let me suggest some steps many of us can take to help assure a healthier future for everyone.