Impact of environmental changes on humans and other organisms

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Climate change is a defining issue of our time. The impacts of climate change include increase in global temperatures, change in the patterns of precipitation, rising sea levels, increase in the frequency or intensity of weather events like floods; and numerous issues that result from each of them. They have been threatening our health by affecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food that we eat and in short our whole existence.

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Global warming

Greenhouse gases are naturally found in the atmosphere. They are good for us as they help trap the heat of the sun to keep us warm and to sustain life on earth. But recently, the levels of greenhouse gases have increased to a record high. This has lead to rise in the average temperature of the earth known as global warming. The major contributors of green house gases are –

  1. Industrialization
  2. Increasing population
  3. Burning of fossil fuels
  4. Agricultural emissions

Effects of global warming on the environment

Due to increased amount of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, the average temperature of the earth has increased resulting in –

  1. Heat waves – It is a period of excessively hot weather usually accompanied by high humidity.
  2. Droughts – It is caused due to prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall, leading to a shortage of water, cracking of ground due to lack of moisture and drying up of crops and local vegetation.
  3. Melting glaciers – When glaciers melt due to rising temperatures, the runoff significantly increases the amount of water in the ocean, contributing to rise in sea levels.
  4. Rising sea-levels – Global warming is leading to thermal expansion of sea water, melting of land based ice sheets and glaciers. Thermal expansion is nothing but expansion of matter on being heated. You may refer to our chapter on States of Matter.
  5. Wildfire – Climate change has been a key factor in increasing the risk and extent of wilfires in the Western United States. Factors that contribute to wildfires are warmer and drier weather and drought conditions.
  6. Warming of ocean surfaces – The Ocean surfaces are heating up as water sops up most of the excess heat on the earth’s surface caused due to global warming.
  7. Ocean acidification – The Ocean absorbs 30-40% of carbon dioxide released by human activity. Carbon dioxide when combines with water forms an acid that affects marine life including corals.
  8. Extreme weather events like hurricanes, lightening, blizzards and rainstorms – With global warming on a rise, there is constant atmospheric chaos due to warm air moving up to form storm clouds. This results in extreme weather conditions.

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Effects of global warming on humans

People like outdoor workers, student athletes and homeless are more susceptible to get affected directly. Exposure to extreme heat can lead to heat stroke, heat cramps and dehydration. It also may lead to respiratory issues, cardiovascular issues and may affect the brain too. Our coping mechanisms like increased use of air conditioning, has only increased our consumption of electricity leading to further rise in outside temperatures.  It’s a vicious cycle.

For people living in coastal areas, sea-level rise is a cause of worry. In the US, in the last 10 years, the annual average flood days have more than doubled on the East Coast between Florida and North Carolina.

The food that we eat is far less nutritious than earlier. Due to rise in carbon dioxide levels, photosynthesis has become faster, leading to deficiency of core nutrients like vitamins and minerals in plants. According to researchers at Harvard, Zinc (a mineral) and protein deficiency are some of the major concerns that we are facing today.

Effects of global warming on other animals and plants

Disruption of habitats -The key impact of global warming on plants and animals would be disruption of their habitats. The rise in temperatures and scarcity of water affect the vegetation in an area which in turn affects the availability of food for the animals. Up to 50% of the animals and plants species in the world’s most naturally rich areas like Amazon and Galapagos could face extinction by the turn of the century due to climate change.

Alteration of life cycles of plants and animals – Due to rising temperatures, many spring flowers bloom earlier and survive longer into the fall. Some animals wake up earlier from their hibernation. There has been alteration in the timings of their migration period also.

Effects of pollution of humans, other animals and plants

Long term exposure to polluted air can have harmful consequences on our health, such as decreased lung function, accelerated aging of lungs, asthma, bronchitis and even cancer. Air pollutants are poisoning wildlife too by affecting their body systems. Accumulation of pollutants in air also leads to acid rains that have devastating effects on various habitats. Every year, about one billion people fall sick due to unsafe water. Water borne diseases are typhoid, cholera, dysentery, giardia, mercury poisoning to name a few. Polluted water can have serious effects on the aquatic ecosystems including its plants and animals.

The climate crisis is a serious matter. We have it in our hands to control it by switching to cleaner sources of energy and reducing carbon emissions.

Check Point

  1. The increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has lead to ______________.
  2. Two of the major contributors of greenhouse gases are _________ and __________.
  3. Ocean acidification occurs as the ocean water absorbs the excess _______ from the atmosphere.
  4. For people living in ___________ areas, sea-level rise is a cause of worry as they are more susceptible to floods.
  5. Some common water borne diseases are _______ and _______.

Answer Key

  1. Global warming
  2. Industries, burning of fossil fuels, agricultural emissions, increasing population (any two)
  3. Carbon dioxide
  4. Coastal
  5. Cholera, typhoid, dysentery (could be many others, think out of the box )

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