We drove to Brooklyn a few weekends ago to help our son celebrate his 30th birthday. It was a good visit, except for his coughing jags. He may be an adult, but I’m still his mom. I gave him no peace until he agreed to see a doctor.
His diagnosis? “Cough-variant asthma, which is likely triggered by allergies,” my son wrote in an email. “It’s not permanent, it’ll probably go away. He [the doctor] gave me an inhaler for two weeks and some pills….”
Asthma, allergies, an inhaler? While these words are all too common in many households — and on a permanent basis — this is a startling diagnosis for someone with no history of either seasonal allergies or asthma.
Like many other New Yorkers this summer, my son is experiencing first-hand the costs and health hazards of climate change. According to allergists, last fall’s heavy rains, combined standing water left by Hurricane Sandy has triggered a surge in pollen and mold problems that are causing an intense allergy season and introducing many of the area’s residents to the joys of nasal congestion, watery, itchy eyes, and, yes, persistent coughs.
Superstorm Sandy’s power and fury was whipped up and intensified by increased ocean temperatures due to global warming. Like most symptoms of climate change, its impact is long lasting, and has the potential to morph into something just as harmful as the event itself — like the ailments my son and other New Yorkers are experiencing this summer.
Those harmful impacts are being felt all across the country. While climate change is making the east coast wetter, it is having the opposite effect in the western part of the country where wildfires are raging out of control. According to the Huffington Post, while heat and fire have an obvious connection,
“…a changing climate may actually intensify fire seasons a variety of ways. Warmer, drier weather and earlier snow melts can lengthen fire’s window of opportunity, for example, a predicted increase in lightning offers more chances to ignite the forest-turned-kindling.”
As a result, the State of Washington Department of Ecology warns:
“Rising temperatures, more frequent and longer lasting heat waves, and drier summers are expected to contribute to larger, more severe wildfires.”
In addition, a report by the USDA predicts that because warmer temperatures are disturbing forests’ delicate ecosystems,
“Wildfire will increase throughout the United States, causing at least a doubling of area burned by the mid-21st century.”
Like their East Coast counterparts, westerners in the U.S. are suffering serious health consequences from climate change-induced natural disasters. Last year, wildfires in Washington State sent area residents to emergency rooms with symptoms that included chest pains, shortness of breath, and stinging eyes.
In its coverage of a 2012 report (PDF) from the Washington State Board of Health, theHuffington Post noted that, “some communities spent weeks with average fine particulate matter readings above that hazardous level.”
Natural disasters like wildfires and superstorms are triggered and intensified by a warming planet. Beyond the immediate damage they cause, those disasters can make our air unhealthy to breathe, threatening our health for months, possibly years, later.
Climate change is hitting home for all of us. For our own health and that of future generations, let’s continue to build on the momentum President Obama set in motion with his recent speech outlining his plan for climate action.