Global warming is having an amplified effect on the polar regions in the Arctic and Antarctica. The weather extremes in these regions are crucial to for regulating our planets climate.
Despite both having ice and low temperatures, the two regions are very different. While the Antarctic is a land mass surrounded by ocean, the Arctic is an ocean with land around the outside. The different geographies mean that the forces defining sea ice spreading are different.
The huge masses of ice in these regions are more than just a spectacular view, they are important to our survival. They reflect the sun’s rays away from the earth keeping the ocean’s temperatures liveable and help circulate the world’s ocean currents moving cold and warm water around the globe.
With less ice to reflect sunshine, more heat absorbed by the Earth, magnifying the warming effect. As the meltwater enters the sea it raises worldwide sea levels, changes the chemical make-up of the sea water, and affects habitats of species that live in the sea and on the ice caps.
Oceans are full of life, giving them the ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide naturally, over extended periods of time. This means they can be classed as “carbon sinks” (meaning they can absorb and store carbon dioxide naturally). The carbon remains in the ocean’s ecosystem but with the alarming rises in carbon dioxide this can cause acidification (amongst other impacts) leading to negative influences on species such corals, algae, and other plant life, which are important to a healthy ecosystem.
The increase is the ocean’s temperatures also affects marine species and ecosystems. This in turn affects the resources we take from the ocean, threatening food security, coastal protection, bringing extreme weather events and rising sea levels.
Air pollution is caused by the release of harmful contaminants in the air originating from several different sources mostly created by human action including heating, cooking, and traveling.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO): air pollution, it kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year. WHO data shows that nine out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds WHO guideline limits containing high levels of pollutants, with low and middle income countries suffering from the highest exposures.
The effects of air pollution on the human body fluctuate depending on the type of pollutant and the length and level of exposure—as well as other factors, including a person’s individual health risks.
The main sources of air pollution come from heating our homes; burning gas in our central heating boilers and solid fuel in stoves; and from exhaust fumes from cars and other vehicles. Wood burning stoves are particularly bad for air pollution in our homes.
We already have the technology to improve air pollution and make our air safe again. We must leave our fossil fuel cars behind and do more walking and cycling, improve our public transport infrastructure, and we must help those that need private cars to switch to electric vehicles.
National Geographic: air pollution shares some interesting facts and information around air pollution across the globe.
Forests too have a fundamental role in climate change being a stabilising force for the climate and are one of the world’s largest “carbon sinks”. They cover 31% of Earth’s surface and largely affect the amount of carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is absorbed in wood, leaves, and soil removing it from earth’s atmosphere.
They regulate ecosystems, protect biodiversity, are home to many plant, tree, and animal types and with deforestation they are in grave danger of entire species being wiped out.
Although they are an important solution to climate change, they are also a main cause of greenhouse gas emissions. When a forest is burning or being cut down or dying, all the carbon they stored is released back into the atmosphere.
In addition to their carbon storing and biodiversity benefits, trees can also help to prevent devastating flood events. They won’t stop the rain falling, but their roots can help to keep the rainwater stored deeper underground, preventing it from flooding our streets. The rainwater is then released more slowly into our rivers at a rate that our waterways and flood defences can handle.
Climate change affects many of the social and environmental elements of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secure shelter, having direct and indirect impacts.
With global warming and temperatures rising it can lead to increased infections from diseases, it can reduce the availability of drinking water, and affect the production and the nutritional value of food, whether this is by growing crops or raising livestock.
Everyone’s health will be affected by climate change, but some are more vulnerable than others. We may see deaths related to cold weather decrease but we are already seeing an increase in deaths due to heat in many regions across the globe.
Some of the actions that we can take to try to stop climate change could also benefit our health. Have a look at the transport section for information about active travel opportunities.
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, reducing productivity. Floods can cause huge amounts of damage to homes, businesses, and lives. 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 difficult task of feeding the world population, which is expected to near 10 billion by 2050 according to the World Population Prospects 2019,
World Wildlife Fund: effects of climate change includes information about the effect of climate change on endangered wildlife species.