Climate Change and Your Body: Threats Ahead

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Up until today, the whole narrative line of the “Environment” section you’re currently reading has been promoting and enforcing a view of the world that defines us, as humans, as the primary drivers of the environmental apocalypse we will soon be living. If you’ve kept up with our journalistic approach here at Modern Treatise, that should come as no surprise to you: climate change is happening, it is happening because of us, and it is up to each and every single one of the members of our race to join the fight against it. 

Now, that being said, it’s still easy to think of climate change as a distant, ethereal entity, that exists only in some extremely environmental plane. However, as we’ve been trying to enforce, its consequences do not simply affect humanity as a race but extend intrinsically to the individual. The trouble, when talking about such a complex and controversial topic, is that it is quite difficult to define outcomes that are easily interpreted as personal threats.

That might sound slightly alarmist, but, extensive linguistic and psychological studies like the one by Leaf Van Boven at the University of Colorado at Boulder, have shown that, linguistically, approaching climate change with personal, outcome-driven statements is a far more effective technique when attempting to elicit genuine concern. Taking that as a jumping off point, we started digging around for ways in which your body might actually change because of what’s to happen if we do not change our relationship with the planet we currently inhabit. 

So, right off the bat, this is not one of those pieces that opens with a statement like “your children will never be able to know what a polar bear looks like”. Though that is not far from the truth, it’s equally important, and perhaps more influential, to understand exactly how the future conditions of our planet impact our internal chemistry. 

We’ll start off by discussing the latest proceedings of the United Nations Environment Programme, who just released an extensive sixth issue of their Global Environment Outlook publication. Here, the highest organ of international law-making strives to illustrate some of the most salient repercussions of avoiding the climate change fight and actually seeing that dreaded 1.5 C degree rise come to be. 

Amongst the first issues to be discussed, is, as has been done in the past, that of biodiversity. It’s no secret that climate change will directly decrease the amount of biological diversity on our planet. Species will go extinct, insects will perish and flora will disappear. However, according to the report, the health of your internal biome will also be greatly compromised. 

To understand what that means, we need to take a step back and comprehend that our bodies are home to millions and millions of tiny bacteria, that live anywhere, from your skin to your gut, to your nails. As with most things, however, they exist in a relatively precarious balance - when we get sick, or when we get an infection, it usually a signal of some fundamental imbalance in your internal microbiome. When an external presence arrive, a presence which we call a pathogen, it is essentially an extra, clandestine micro-organism that sneaks its way into your system. The TED Talk below provides a more extensive explanation:

Generally, that’s why you’re often instructed to take some form of specific antibiotic if the infection is bacterial. However, as the waters of the world become more and more infested and concentrated with chemicals, pollutants, and pharmaceuticals, these malicious micro-organisms are extremely likely to flourish. So, why is that?

Well, as pollution increases, and grows in variety, the malicious little buggers will, by way of evolution and natural selection, gain resistance to whatever chemicals and pharmaceuticals they’re exposed to. Now, what this means is that those micro-organisms with some mutation that makes them resistant to the drug will actually survive and proliferate. The trouble is, according to the outlook published by the UN, that the world’s water will be so contaminated that micro-organisms will develop resistance to our drugs way faster than we can develop the actual drugs. It doesn’t take a Nobel laureate to understand why that might be profoundly problematic. 

In places where clean water is scarce, like regions in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and where the population is hence more likely to drink water contaminated with these pathogens, the problem is likely to scale to monumental proportions. As a matter of fact, as stated by the 250+ scientists that composed the report, we “will see anti-microbial resistance become a major cause of death by 2050 and endocrine disruptors impact male and female fertility, as well as child neurodevelopment.”

What that translates to, transitioning from a person to global outlook, is the very real possibility of thousands of “cities and regions in Asia, the Middle East and Africa seeing millions of premature deaths by mid-century.” So, not only will climate change affect the beauty our planet has to offer, but it will directly impact the quality of operation of our most precious machinery: our bodies. 

As time continues its slow roll forwards, the UN, and we with them, intend to relay more and more of these incredibly real, personal, medical outcomes to the attention of the general public. We must move to understand that what the world discusses when discussing climate change is not the future - it is an iteration of the present. Climate change is happening right now, the oceans are changing as you read this, and microbes are evolving right as this article is being crafted. That much, we cannot change. What we can change is how much more is to come. Join the fight.