Today an estimated 310,000 people marched together through the streets of New York City bringing together a huge array of environmental organizations, community organizations, and activists to bring awareness to the issue of climate change in the days before the United Nations Climate Summit in NYC.
The large turnout at the march highlights the growing awareness of the impact that climate change and environmental pollution has on our lives. Human health and the health of our planet are deeply intertwined. Many marchers and banners called for overcoming the lack of information, misinformation and denial surrounding environmental issues. Since climate issues may be a delayed threat to our safety we are unlikely to react as we would to an imminent danger. Environmental issues in one part of the globe may affect people in other parts of the world, which adds to a psychology of denial.
KEY WAYS IN WHICH CLIMATE CHANGE AFFECTS HEALTH:
1. Diminishing access to clean air, water and food
Contaminants in our environment affect our health; in many cases they accumulate in the tissues of our bodies and contribute to a variety of diseases. Research is increasingly linking the tissues concentrations of persistent organic pollutants with health problems such as cancer, obesity and diabetes. The rates of various chronic physical and mental diseases are increasing and are being linked to the changes in our food and environment. For example, the increases in the rates of autism and endocrine disorders may be linked to changes in environmental exposures.
2. Natural disasters causing physical and psychological trauma
Floods, fires, tsunamis and other climate-related natural disasters can cause death, or increase the risk of disease and health problems especially in vulnerable populations. The trauma of a natural disaster increases the risk for depression, post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems.
3. Heat and cold waves
Vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly and those with medical and psychiatric conditions are more sensitive to extreme temperatures.
4. Air pollution
Warmer temperatures increase number of days with higher concentrations of ground level ozone, which can exacerbate a variety of lung conditions such as asthma. Allergens may be increasing because of the changes in climate.
5. Disease Spread
Food, water and animal borne diseases may spread with changes in the climate.
6. Psychological Distress
Worries and anxiety about environmental pollution and climate changes add to stress. Frustration with inequality, denial, and lack of accountability and misinformation or lack of information breed anger. Many of the groups at the People’s Climate March today expressed anger at the “system” and called for fundamental changes in how we live together on Planet Earth.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT AND REDUCE CLIMATE CHANGE?
1. Live in a city.
Urban dwellers, such as residents of NYC participating in the People’s Climate March, have a smaller carbon footprint. Living in an area with access to public transport and compact housing with shared heating and shared living spaces is good for the planet.
2. Walk, ride a bike, use public transit, and carpool
Carpooling, or not driving, dramatically reduces the carbon footprint. Live locally and fly less. Local passenger transport accounts for approximately 15 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Drive a fuel efficient vehicle
If you drive choose a fuel efficient vehicle.
4. Make your home energy efficient
There are many ways to make your home more energy efficient: improve insulation, turn the light off, go easy on the thermostat, and consider adding solar power.
5. Conserve water
Reduce water use in the home and in the yard.
6. Reuse and Recycle
Reduce consumerism and make small changes that can reduce waste. Carry a water bottle or a tea mug, buy used goods, and embrace simple living. About 29 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions result from the “provision of goods.”
7. Eat Clean Local Food
Choose local and organic food when possible. About 13 percent of US greenhouse gas emission results from food production and transport.
The tremendous turnout at the People’s Climate March shows that more and more people recognize the harms of environmental pollution and are concerned enough to do something about it. Environmental pollution and climate change contribute to physical and psychological diseases sometimes in dramatic ways, and more often in an insidious manner. Making small changes in our daily lives can make a big difference in reducing our carbon footprint and protecting the environment and our health. You can do a lot to make a difference for the health of the planet and for the health of humans near and far by making changes in how you live and use natural resources.