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climate change


By Mariyana Spyropoulos



Whether you agree that Climate Change is affecting our lives directly or not, there is no disputing that weather patterns have changed in the last few years. According to the United Nations recent climate report, scientists worldwide can now state with 95% certainty that humans are causing most of today’s climate issues. Many think that these changes are only causing polar ice caps to melt, but there are serious long term health consequences that can occur as a result. These consequences may or may not affect us, but they will certainly affect future generations.

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In November 2013, the White House released a memo on how the administration was preparing for the impact of climate change, building on plans started in October 2009.  The memo states, “the impacts of climate change — including an increase in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, more heavy downpours, an increase in wildfires, more severe droughts, permafrost thawing, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise — are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the United States.  These impacts are often most significant for communities that already face economic or health-related challenges, and for species and habitats that are already facing other pressures.  Managing these risks requires deliberate preparation, close cooperation, and coordinated planning by the Federal Government. In addition,  stakeholders need to be involved to facilitate Federal, State, local, tribal, private-sector, and nonprofit-sector efforts to improve climate preparedness and resilience; help safeguard our economy, infrastructure, environment, and natural resources; and provide for the continuity of executive department and agency (agency) operations, services, and programs.”


Since 1979, 40% of the polar ice caps have melted. Further, the Journal of Nature indicates that future summers will be warmer than the warmest on record.  These weather changes will affect many health conditions, including COPD, lung diseases and asthma. Rising temperatures will be felt acutely by those in urban settings, and although it might be a slow process, it does not mean that actions shouldn’t be taken immediately.



As high intensity rain storms and heat events increase in frequency, we have to ask ourselves what have we done to address these events and their effects, and assess where are our residents are most vulnerable.  This is why reassessing policy development of urban areas is one of the first steps we have to make, with climate changes included in regional infrastructure plans. Our planning processes must change and become proactive, not reactive.



We cannot view global warming in the abstract and think it only affects distance ice caps.  Lake Michigan, for example, had a new record low water level for December 2013.  The latest studies have shown that in the past 40 years ice covering of Lake Michigan has declined about 71%. These lower water levels and warmer temperatures may increase the amount of mercury in the food chain, not to mention their effect on the millions of people depending on Lake Michigan for drinking water.



As a result of these shifts and extremes in our environment, we experience more air pollution, water borne diseases, rag-weed pollen virus, and compromise of our water resources with a resulting effect on the food supply.  Last summer’s heat waves in Europe resulted in 70,000 deaths in 11 days.  In one month of temperatures over 100 degrees in Russia, 55,000 died, one million acres burned and crop production dropped by 25%.  The phenomenon of environmental refugees, only recently looked as a result of climate change, could rise as a result.


What are some of the things we can do now to stop the effects of this phenomenon on our day to day lives.  Three million people die each year due to physical inactivity with an additional 3 million deaths annually due to urban air pollution.  As a result, the World Health Organization suggests reducing car use by taking all round trips of 5 miles or less with alternative modes of transport if possible.  If only half of short trips could be accomplished by bike that would reduce auto emissions by 20%.  These changes could save up to 500 lives a year, with 100,000 hospital admissions avoided. Swapping pedals for tail pipes is a small change that could pay huge dividends by reducing heart attacks, cancer and road traffic crashes.



President Obama spoke about climate change at his inauguration and created a Climate Action plan in June 2013.  Part of that plan is to build resilience against climate effects which includes a climate profile, vulnerability assessment, disease burden and making projections for 50 years from now.



There is no single fix to this problem. It cannot be solved with a narrow focus. We must look at climate change as a reality and be the best stewards of our planet as possible, if not for our sake, then for the sake of future generations.


M Spyropoulos

Mariyana Spyropoulos


Photo 1- nps.gov


The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.

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