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What is Climate Change?

This fantastic video by Minute Earth explains the effects of greenhouse gases on our planet.

Over the last 100 years the worlds ever growing population has becoming more reliant on burning fossil fuels. As a result we have seen a dramatic increase in carbon dioxide. 

It is not just the burning of fossil fuels that is leading to this stark increase. Agriculture, deforestation and other industrial processes all contribute to the rising level of carbon dioxide. While carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas it is not the only culprit. Methane and Nitrous Oxide also contribute significantly to heat trapping, as do volatile anaesthetic agents. The graphic below courtesy of World Resources Institute demonstrates common sources of greenhouse gases.

It is not just the burning of fossil fuels that is leading to this stark increase. Agriculture, deforestation and other industrial processes all contribute to the rising level of carbon dioxide. While carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas it is not the only culprit. Methane and Nitrous Oxide also contribute significantly to heat trapping, as do volatile anaesthetic agents. The graphic below courtesy of World Resources Institute demonstrates common sources of greenhouse gases.

Research conducted by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) shows that the average global temperature has risen 0.8 degrees centigrade since 1880. 75% of this increase has occurred since 1975.

Why Worry About A Warmer Planet?

The rapidly changing environment is threatening to the species that live in it. Poaching, habitat loss and rapidly rising temperatures are leading us towards the earth's sixth great extinction event. Rising sea temperatures are leading to the death of coral reefs internationally and rising sea levels are leading to the vulnerability of of animals such as the polar bear. The recession of oceanic ice shelves earlier on in the season leads to polar bears entering summer malnourished. Many starve to death or drown swimming far out into open ocean for food. 

Its not just polar bears and marine life at risk. By 2050 sea levels are expected to rise between 1 and 2.3ft. Watch Professor Briner's TED Talk on Major Sea Level Rise to learn more. 

With 1 in 10 people living in low elevation coastal zones we can expect the number of climate change refuges to increase dramatically. 

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference highlighted the overlap between conventional security threats of a military nature, which are focused on nations, and unconventional security threats of an environmental, social, and humanitarian nature. Extreme weather events and rising temperatures lead to food and water shortages which in turn lead to disenfranchisement of communities, conflict and the spread of terrorism. 

In early 2019 The University of East Anglia published a paper showing statistically significant links between climate change, The Arab Spring and mass migration. Read it here. 

 

In addition to rising sea levels the rapidly changing climate is leading to more extreme weather events. In 2018 alone The Centre of Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters shows that 5000 people died and 28.9 million have needed emergency assistance or humanitarian aid because of extreme weather. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre's statistics show that since 2008 26.4 million people have been displaced by extreme weather events. That accounts to one every second and the trend is increasing. 

The above clip is a talk given at the Royal College of Anaesthetists by founder member of the UK Climate and Health Alliance and Professor of Intensive Care Medicine Hugh Montgomery. Here he take us on a journey of how our expanding population has affected the planet we live on.  

A Healthcare Emergency

It is also important to take into account the direct health issues associate with climate changes. Flooding can lead to large scale population displacement, inevitable psychological and financial consequences that accompany loss of secure shelter, disruption to sanitation, and direct impact on healthcare services and other emergency services that are situated in areas prone to flooding.

On both a local and global scale the production and transport of food will become increasingly affected. The UK, heavily reliant on global imports, will have rising costs and decreasing supply of food, greatly affecting those that are most vulnerable in our society leading to an increase in poor quality diets and malnutrition.

The disruption to sanitation and infrastructure along with warmer temperatures will lead to new vector-borne disease, and increase in the spread of existing diseases such as Legionaries, Campylobacter, Malaria and Dengue.

The decreasing quality of air will directly affect those with respiratory disease, increasing rates of asthma and cancer, as well as other links to cardiovascular disease and even dementia, obesity and diabetes. Around 40,000 deaths per year can be directly attributed to air pollution alone.

As healthcare professionals we have a duty of care to our patients. We need to foster a duty of care to our planet in order to do this justice. 

Click the return button and scroll left to learn more about the outlook for climate change.