Whenever most people think about climate change, the classic image that comes to mind is that of a polar bear floating on a lonely piece of ice. Climate plays a deeply significant role in the environment, so making any change to it results in large and complex effects. It can influence water, forests, agriculture, food security, oceans, biodiversity, and even your health.
At first, it can be hard to believe that changes in climate can lead to health problems (especially in a country like the United States). However, climate change affects the social and environmental determinates of health such as clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secure shelter.
While that may seem legit in print, I have always had a hard time applying this idea to my own life, especially since I have had ample access to doctors, a house, and plenty of food. While at the United Nations Climate Change Negations, I decided to attend a talk about climate and health with the expectation that the discussion would focus on heat or extreme weather related deaths.
As I sat down with my headset that translated the French, I heard Dr. Francios Boller from the George Washington Medical school say that air pollution can lead to Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases.
That’s right – you read that correctly. At first, I thought I misheard something or that the translator was somehow wrong. I knew that air pollution could lead to heart or lung problems, but it hadn’t occurred to me that it could result in a disease so horrific and mysterious.
Like any good scientist, I quickly returned home to shift through some scientific studies to get to the bottom of this troubling information (and so that you don’t have to). After searching through google scholar, I found that particles in the air due to pollution are suspected to contribute to many different disorders ranging from heart disease and even to obesity. One study found that smoke and other fine particles contribute to the development of childhood obesity. More recent work has suggested that these particles play a role in degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Since the particles in pollution are so small, they can pass from our nostrils up to the brain. Studies show that this leads to elevated rates of brain disease and accelerated mental decline.
I cannot stress enough that these results are preliminary, although they are compelling. Many other risk factors can contribute to these disorders, and it is uncertain whether the particles initiate these diseases or just accelerate them. Overall, it is important to remember that the effects of climate change are happening all around us. The rising temperatures exacerbate the pollution and can cause people in your backyard and around the world to suffer in many different ways.