Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Swimming's Climate Series

After coming back from Europe an enlightened woman (well, sort of, my hair is still wild and out of control) I am starting a series of posts on Climate change called 'Swimming's Climate Series' where I will be confronting the health effects of climate change. At the World Health Assembly in the UN Geneva I attended a session that has completely opened my eyes to this issue. Especially because it was placed in the context of how climate change is affecting human health. My class project and paper are on this topic and I will be sharing fast facts and discussion on this in a series of posts in the hopes to educate someone, anyone out there reading this. Climate change really is occurring, think about the last time we had a string of 90+ degree weather growing up? Can't remember it? That's because global warming has escalated us to these increased heat waves in the past decade.

The heat is insane here and it is only getting hotter. How did this happen? To distill this down, cars/plants/transportation leads to pollution and carbon emissions which leads to destruction and deposition of the ozone and carbon. Carbon traps heat so that leads to increased global temperatures. For more details about the actual science and data see here.

How does climate change affect me? Because the integrity of the atmosphere  has been compromised there is now sustained presence of heat which can lead heat exhaustion and heat stroke which can lead to death.

Here are some of the hardest hit cities:
Notice that they are some of the poorest cities in America. Again we stumble upon the issue of how corporate and congressional action ends up impacting the poor the hardest.

What does this mean for us? Not only is our environment affected and ecosystem disrupted, climate change is rapidly affecting human health. 

Here are basic ways to start becoming more educated on climate change as both an environmental and a medical issue:

(1) Know your heat terminology. Here's a website that will help you understand the differences in ky words used by both the National Weather Service and healthcare professionals. The major ones are:

Weather Terms:
Heat Wave - Prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity.
Heat Index - A number in degrees Fahrenheit (F) that tells how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the air temperature. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees.
Heat Advisory - Heat Index values are forecast to meet locally defined advisory criteria for 1 to 2 days (daytime highs=100-105° Fahrenheit).

Health Terms:
Heat Exhaustion - Typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim's condition will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and the victim may suffer heat stroke.
Heat Stroke - A life-threatening condition. The victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.

(2) How does heat affect my health?
 Read here for more detailed info:

In a nutshell, our natural physiology allows us to keep our body temperature within a range (only a few degrees above/below 98 deg-F). Additionally, there are mechanisms such as sweating during exercise and a change in the set-point temperatures during fevers that allow the body to self-regulate its temperature. This is all contingent upon a stable environmental temperature. As the temperature in our environment climbs, our bodies will exchange heat (the physics of heat transfer from high to low areas). Thus, if we consistently have days that are in the 100s our bodies will consistently be stressed to absorb heat from the environment, but at a certain point this exceeds our capacity to self-regulate and leads to health complications such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Why is heat bad? Well many of our cellular and protein function rely on working at a stable body temperature. At elevated temperatures, enzymes/proteins that carry out body functions such as breaking down food into energy will denature. This leads to tissue and organ failure and eventual death.

(3) Here's a quick link to a clip from Real Time with Bill Maher. This clip is mainly for entertainment purposes but dapples in the debate over climate change from a different perspective. If you don't care about your health, the economy, the planet, then maybe you'll care that your beach house off the Florida coast is going to be under water very very soon.

Stay tuned, I will be tackling this from the ground up!

No comments:

Post a Comment