Climate crisis causes severe respiratory problems
by Lina Ntokou
Forest fires, rising sea levels, increasing carbon dioxide levels, pollution and rising temperatures are all different aspects of the unfolding climate crisis. What does this mean for lung health? Factors like heat, allergens, ozone, and particulate matter released from fires come together to impact dramatically our airways.
Why we need to act now?
Increasing temperatures directly affect asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and even mental illnesses and cardiovascular diseases. In the last 22 years the heat-related mortality in people over 65 has tripled! Heat extremes can activate inflammatory response that causes acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and leads to death. The lung function severely drops in asthmatic adults, especially males and overweight individuals, when exposed to high temperatures.
Adults are also affected by air pollution, both outdoor, e.g. greenhouse gases produced by electric and energy industry, as well as indoor e.g. increasing molds and pollen. Air pollution further causes developmental effects, like lower birth weight at term, smaller head, more coughs, asthma and start of atherosclerosis 
Even with the recent Covid19 pandemic, people who lived in polluted areas and were infected experienced largely worse symptoms than those in less polluted areas.
Recent reports have marked the economic cost of the severe climate change effects for governments. In British Columbia in Canada, for example, the amount of dollars lost because of wildfires has increased from 99 million dollars to more than 570 million dollars the last fifteen years . This amount reflects the effects of climate crisis and is used to motivate policy makers to act now. The effects are even worse in low- and middle income countries which account for most of global population. Household air pollution in these countries has a huge impact on the worsening of respiratory health of their population with 0.5 million deaths due to pneumonia in children younger than five years per year!
What can we do about that?
Broadly, the solution is as simple -sarcasm here- as to “create energy systems for climate and health improvement and reimagine urban environments, transport, and mobility” . However, at a personal level we can try to minimize our ambient exposure through lifestyle choices. We should eliminate smoking cigarettes and consuming junk food with saturated fats like deep fried meals. We can also try to use low air pollution routes (e.g., through parks), especially when running or cycling. Vehicles with better settings for energy efficiency and emissions control can be helpful in day-to day management. Of course, some of these require infrastructure and policy action on a larger scale and we are often limited to an individual level. We should all try to protect our lungs, restore the forests and our oceans and push for strong policies and governments that have green topics high in their agendas.
Last time I checked, breathing was critical for life, and I would like to live. I guess you too.
Sources:  Royal College of Physicians. Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution, February 2016  Wildfire averages  Who’s 10 calls for climate action
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