Climate Change and the Unhealthy Revenge of the Planet

Lack of attention to Mother Nature may be turning her against us

Photo by Patrick Hendry

Mother Nature is raging, but the world refuses to listen to her roar. Her displeasure with our squandering of the riches we’ve been given is evident as we see millions infected with a deadly virus. Temperatures are shifting, and millions of acres of forests are sacrificed to wildfires; others turn into megadrought areas. No longer is there a “fire season” on the West Coast of the US; it’s all year long and affects many states.

Island countries are threatened by sea levels rising as they slowly engulf the land. Look to the frozen areas of our globe, and the damage is evident. Sea ice is melting at an alarming rate, causing sea level rising, and this debacle will catapult whole species of animals into extinction.

The effects on human populations will also be devastating. Projections for 2100 have been made for the United States mainland.

A rise of six feet will affect 13.1 million people and include 25 counties more than the previous scenario. Florida’s Miami-Dade and Broward counties alone account for more than a quarter of this number. Areas with catastrophic impacts include Tyrrell and Hyde counties in North Carolina.

The delicate interaction of human existence and climate change is subtle, for far too many, and can be dismissed as rhetoric from fanatical scientists or overly zealous citizen advocates.

The reality of climate change, however, and the lives and economies that will be devastated by it are not factors that are easily seen. The serious nature of the problem, therefore, requires that we pay close attention to the alarms that Mother Nature is setting off.

Photo by redcharlie

Who Is Affected by Climate Change?

Addressing climate change is much like planning for our future retirement. Many people don’t plan for retirement and too many view climate change as inconsequential or not requiring attention, as well. In the United States, each section of the country has new climate change risks.

Everyone in every part of the world will be affected by climate change. What we protect today can make our tomorrows more comfortable and ensure we have clean water, clean air, and protect our investment in our economies.

Poverty is one factor few in the more developed nations readily see, but it is a blight that climate change will intensify. As a result, we now have climate refugees who receive insufficient notice.

Avoiding the reality of climate change is even a matter of which term to use; climate meltdown, climate chaos or climate realism. No matter the word, the result is the same and it’s deadly.

As well as its serious impact on the environment and people, climate change is one of the biggest threats to economic stability. Heatwaves make us less able to work and reduce productivity. Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons devastate millions of people, leaving them in absolute poverty after ruthlessly sweeping away their communities.

Droughts shrink harvests, further complicating the arduous task of feeding the world population, which is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (World Population Prospects 2019, United Nations Organisation).

Photo: ©P. A. Farrell

Mental Health and the Oceans

The question, if given life through expressed thought, seems ludicrous. “How could the ocean possibly affect mental health?”

The ocean is the source of life and renewal, usually not an impediment to maintaining good mental health. No, it doesn’t always play out that way in a global climate change crisis.

Climate change creates a detrimental feedback loop between the environment and how it affects our physical health and, consequentially, our mental health as well. Tainted water, polluted air, and potential virus-feeding wastelands are becoming more evident.

Physical illness brings changes in emotion, depression, lack of motivation, fear of the future, and immune system deficits, which further damage physical health.

The consequences of climate change on health cannot be ignored.

The mental health effects of climate change are multifaceted, with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression predominant…

The risk of the development of mental health conditions post-disaster is not equally distributed; research has consistently demonstrated that specific risk factors (e.g., gender, socioeconomic status and education, pre-existing mental health symptomatology), are associated with increased vulnerability to mental health conditions following natural disasters.

Subsequent changes to human health and well-being can result from modifications to the food supply and food quality, respiratory issues, mental and physical health, and the treatment of diseases occurring due to acidification.

The dramatic effects of climate change are more-than-evident as we read about the massive break-off of vast portions of ice shelves larger than the size of Manhattan. These icebergs then begin floating in the oceans to cause damage to industry and economic life and, as they melt and raise sea levels — all natural disasters. The Milne Ice Shelf can be monitored here.

Photo by Silas Baisch

The Food Chain

The acidification of the oceans has also compromised the food chain. This acidification happens when the ocean must absorb the excessive carbon dioxide the world is producing.

Ordinarily providing vital minerals, seaweed is now a potential source of dangerous metals. Marine pollution must be viewed in an adjusted perspective as it relates to climate change.

Seaweeds are being consumed more often worldwide and are a source of essential minerals, fiber, vitamins, amino acids, and various bioactive compounds that have many beneficial effects on human health. However, marine pollution and the high capacity of seaweed to absorb metals may mean this food can also be dangerous to human health.

We have seen what some metals, e.g., mercury, can do in terms of human brain development in Japan. Media coverage revealed the damage from eating mercury-laden seafood, which may have affected as many as 470,000 people in Japan alone.

Photo: ©P. A. Farrell

Changing Perception Through Personal Stories

The dangers of climate change are becoming well-known, but not everyone is willing to accept the science. How, then, can we begin to change belief systems to become more in line with the science? One research project, on providing personal stories related to climate change, may have provided a key.

Sharing personal stories of how climate change is already harming people is a promising communication strategy to engage diverse and even skeptical audiences…Because people tend to view climate change as distant and abstract, stories that translate information about the effects of climate change into “relatable and concrete personal experiences” may be especially effective at reducing psychological distance and increasing emotional engagement, thereby increasing perceived importance and risk perceptions.

These findings contribute evidence supporting the theoretical perspectives that argue reducing psychological distance, eliciting emotional or affective responses, and building identification and transportation through storytelling are effective strategies for climate change communication.

Will we heed Mother Nature’s warnings now, or are we headed toward our own destruction through damaging hurricanes, severe drought, rising seas, increasingly poor health, and failed crops?

The roadmap is there. Will we follow it or deny its existence in a rush to acquire the little profit gleaned from environmental pollution?

What future will we prepare for our grandchildren or the others in the world we share with them? History awaits our answers.

Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, WebMD consultant, SAG/AFTRA member, author, interested in film, writing & health. Website: http://t.co/VT8mvcAvRz

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