From the news that the world is facing natural disasters on a daily basis such as floods, storms, wildfires, landslides, volcanic eruptions or melting glaciers including climate-related extreme events, it means the balance of nature has already been disrupted. Everything in this world has its dynamic and is connected through the energy that can be transferred to each other. When the balance of the world is shifted, nature will try to adapt to rebalance itself.

Therefore, the adaptation process into rebalancing through the motion and transferring of energy    among things in nature causes severe impact, of which the degree depends on the difference of energy level. The imbalance of nature causes changes which may be “gradual” or “sudden”. If it is gradual change, all beings will be able to adapt themselves. In contrast, the sudden change will affect the survival of living things. Those who succeed in adaptation will survive in the changed environment whereas those who do not adapt will die. However, the extreme change of climate due to global warming not only brings sudden natural disasters but also gradual consequences. Inevitably, these have impact directly and indirectly to the health of all beings on Earth.

For example, in August 2016 there was recurrence of anthrax outbreak in Russia. The returned disease after 75 years took the life of a 12-year-old boy and infected many people.  More than 2,000 reindeers also died from the disease. The Russian experts believed that the outbreak was caused by heatwave which attacked the Arctic, melting deep layers of permafrost and the carcasses of reindeers infected with the deadly bacteria rose to the surface of the thawing mud. That’s how the bacteria was released.

An extreme weather event can contribute not only to illness and death directly but also to the change of disease occurrence, carrier or various intermediaries which cause illness and death in humans.  As the increase in temperature reduces the incubation period in life cycle of germ, it means germs can grow faster and become rapidly widespread. Some non-pathogenic microorganisms may mutate to become pathogenic microorganisms in high temperature environment.

So, let’s see what is the effect of global warming on human health in gradual and immediate ways.

1) Malnutrition:  It refers to imbalance in a person’s intake of nutrients. It may be caused by   starving or food shortage, resulting from severe drought which reduces global food supply.

2) Respiratory Syndrome: When temperature is higher, it triggers chemical reactions between primary air pollutants such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, causing smog and ozone, a toxic gas which directly harms respiratory system and conjunctiva. In long term, it can lead to the development of chronic respiratory disease and respiratory failure. Moreover, hot and dry air also causes the spread of dust particles in the atmosphere. According to the study of WHO, it found that dry weather and high temperature increase the severity of wildfire. Thus, it results in the increase of smog and dust particles which could cause serious impact to human health such as allergy, asthma and cardiovascular disease.

3) Coronary Artery Disease: With few degrees increased in the world’s temperature, there might be an increase of death from coronary heart disease. When the body gets too hot, it will cool itself by sweating which causes the heart to work harder by beating faster to increase blood circulating throughout the body. Furthermore, there are studies in many regions showing that an extreme weather change, both cold and hot can lead to death which is a new risk factor of acute cardiovascular death in humans.

4) Heat Stroke: It is a condition when the body cannot cope with heat, leading to critical state in the body. In normal situation, the body’s temperature-regulating system can balance and reduce heat from the body effectively. This is directed automatically by hypothalamus in the brain. However, health problems occur when human body is exposed to extreme heat for a long time, causing the regulating process fails.

The effect of global warming on human health makes us thoroughly realize the truth of dhamma, “When the balance of nature is disrupted, how can human life on Earth lie in balance?”

In normal condition, the living organisms in the balance of nature can be divided into three categories: producers, consumers and decomposers. They support and interact with each other in the right proportion and quantity, resulting in the condition called “balance”.  Until the world developed to the industrial revolution era during 2-3 centuries ago, with the development of science, technology advancement and the constant increase in population along with higher demand for consumption, natural resources have been used with no limit.  At the same time, advance medical technology has evolved to create better living. It has made us familiar with them until we forget our traditional way of life. By the time we realize that the world is sick, imbalance and worsen severely, this world has already become an ICU patient.

Today, nature is trying to retrieve its balance. The world, as producer, is reclaiming the balance that humans, as consumers, have taken. It’s time to wake up and foster this planet’s health because it is our habitat, our home. Let’s help restore the beauty and the strength of this home.

Article by Netnapa Chingkitti

About the writer: Ms. Netpana Chingkitti graduated in Bachelor and Master Degree in Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, Kasetsart University. Currently, she works as Medical scientist and specialist in the Bureau of Occupational and Environmental Diseases, Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health.