By Emily Kaschner

Simply put, climate change is a phenomenon in which the weather has become consistently unusual for its normal, expected climate [1]. The key word here is consistently; we do not want to mix up weather with climate. Weather is the constantly changing temperatures, precipitation, wind, etc. that we experience day to day, while climate is the greater picture – the overall trend in a particular region, which can take hundreds to millions of years to change [1]. There are examples of climate change all over the world, from the glaciers melting (think sad, hungry polar bears losing their home) and rising water levels to something as little as a region consistently receiving a few more – or less – inches of rain per year.

Climate change can, and does, occur on its own. The problem is directly related to the activities of humans intervening with the natural processes of the earth, which then amplify the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect was defined in 1895 by Svante Arrhenius as “the natural warming of the earth that results when gases in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun that should escape back into space” [2]. To explain this theory further, I have created a diagram of this process, seen below.

The greenhouse effect occurs with or without the input of humans, and it is actually a good thing at its base; it allows the earth to remain at a cozy 59˚F, which is a temperature that is sustainable for most life [4]. Without the greenhouse effect, the earth would effectively be a frozen uninhabitable planet, much like we believe Mars to be.

So how do humans intervene to such an extent to cause this natural process to become catastrophic? The answer directly boils down to the use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are non-renewable resources that are formed when organic materials, such as plants and animals, die and get buried by layers and layers of rock and sediment, essentially pressing them into compounds containing carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen [5]. When burned, fossil fuels release these elements, which bind together to form the greenhouse gases (there are many, but the most common is CO2).

Given this information, it is confusing to think of these resources as “non-renewable” – don’t plants and animals continuously die? Well, yes. The reason we consider these resources non-renewable is because they are being depleted faster than they are made. Only about 0.1% of all plant and animal matter makes it to this stage, and it takes millions and millions of years of pressure under Earth’s surface to get formed into this carbon/hydrogen gold mine [6].

So let’s put this into perspective: In 1875, France built the first coal-burning plant [7], so we’ll use that as a base point for the beginning of fossil fuel usage. We have since burned through about 35 billion tonnes of fossil fuel on average per year [8]. That’s 507,500,000,000 tonnes of fossil fuel that we will not get back for millions of years to come.

The earth has this method of storing carbon and hydrogen as oil, coal, and natural gases in order to retain them in a place away from the atmosphere, avoiding the amplification of the greenhouse effect. The earth is smart, and it wants to keep itself safe from climate change, but humans are exploiting that.

Why should we do we have to care about climate change? As I mentioned earlier, climate generally takes up to millions of years to change, but due to our own ignorance, we have already begun to see changes since the beginning of fossil fuel burning (146 years). That’s not to say the smaller changes haven’t been occurring virtually “behind the scenes,” only to become big enough to see in recent years, but for sake of purpose, what we have essentially seen is up to over a 1,000-fold amplification of the greenhouse effect.

I have seen evidence of climate change first-hand, from the rising of water levels in the Great Lakes and flooding in Michigan to drying of monsoon seasons and increased severity of wildfires in Arizona, and I am only 25 years old. Globally, a well-known tracker of climate change is the ocean and marine life; scientists have seen physical, biological, and biogeochemical changes in oceanic characteristics, such as increases in temperature, rising of sea levels, changes in oceanic circulation, sea-ice cover, storm frequency, pH, just to name a few [9]. Beyond (and because of) that, we have seen an increase in earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes. But hey, climate change isn’t a big deal, right?

And if you have zero regard for the environment and the animals that live within it, then maybe you will be interested in hearing about the effects of climate change on human health. I am just going to go with relevancy here: infectious disease outbreaks. And no, I’m not going to tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic is directly related to climate change (although, it could definitely have an impact). The correlation between climate change and infectious disease outbreaks has been studied long before the current pandemic. Malaria is a good example of this: mosquitos, which are well-known malaria transmitters, are known to prefer warmer, more humid, environments. With the global increase in temperature, which also result in a higher humidity due to evaporation of lakes and oceans, mosquitos are thriving in places they didn’t before. This allows for a more effective spread of mosquito-transmitted diseases, especially malaria. In fact, the British Chief Medical Officer predicts that climate change will cause England to become suitable for a malaria endemic by just 2050 [10].

It is widely agreed upon by infectious disease scientists that globally, we will see an increase in tropical-like conditions and, consequently, tropical diseases transmitted by vectors like mosquitos. Known tropical diseases include dengue fever, yellow fever, onchocerciasis (river blindness), African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), and more [10]. Non-tropical vector-borne diseases can also be transmitted at an increased rate due to climate change, such as Lyme disease. Lyme disease-transmitting ticks are more or less localized to the Northeastern United States, due to the temperate, yet humid environment. Climate change could allow them to flourish in other regions, increasing the prevalence of this debilitating disease.

Beyond infectious diseases, climate change is connected to a wide range of human health concerns, from asthma and allergies caused by an increase in ground-level ozone and increase in fine particles in the air, to cardiovascular disease and stroke caused by extreme temperatures and increased ozone inducing stress on pulmonary gas exchange [11]. Mental health and stress can contribute to a myriad of physical health conditions as well. For example, high stress can trigger autoimmune diseases and bring a body out of remission. Yes, stress can be directly related to climate change as well. The sole factor of living in an environment with a significantly higher or lower temperature is enough to send signals to a human body to cause stress. Not convincing enough? Then think about hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions – would that not stress a person out? It should.

In order to save our planet and save ourselves, we need to act now – we need to reduce our carbon emissions. From lifestyle changes to addition of new home appliances, there are many ways available to us to get started right away. If you are in a place where investing is an option, a great place to start is with the incorporation of renewable energy sources into your home, such as solar panels. Not only will solar panels reduce the amount of non-renewable sources used to fuel your home, but it will also greatly reduce your monthly power bill. You could also invest in energy-efficient appliances and LED light bulbs, as well as alternative means of transportation (electric cars and/or public transportation and carpooling).

If you are not in a place to drop money on eco-friendly investments, you can still help! Things like reducing water waste by taking shorter showers and not running water while brushing your teeth, unplugging devices when they are not in use, and decreasing your food waste either by gardening and/or recycling your leftovers in ways to benefit the earth, such as composting. Another way to alter your eating habits to benefit the earth is to consume less animal products, as livestock industries contribute to 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions [12]. If you’re like me and grew up in a family that thrived meals centered around meat, this might not seem too inviting, and that’s okay. In our cases, we do not have to completely make the switch to either vegetarian- or veganism, but just making a conscious effort to have a few meatless meals a week can make a big difference.

The mentioned lifestyle changes seem small on a person-to-person basis, but that is precisely why I am trying to spread the word. It is not going to be easy to decrease our carbon footprint; it might even feel impossible. That is why it is so important to talk to our friends and family and spread the word as wide and far as we can, in hopes that we can make strides towards improving the health of our planet not just for us, but also for generations to come.

For more information on how we can make a global impact on the state of our climate and potential economic policies related to this, please refer to our previous article by Rob on the “Importance of a Green New Deal.”


1. May, S. What is Climate Change? 2014 2017; Available from:

2. Arrhenius, S., XXXI. On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground. The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, 1896. 41(251): p. 237-276.

3. The Causes of Climate Change. 2020 March 8, 2021; Available from:

4. Cassia, R., et al., Climate Change and the Impact of Greenhouse Gasses: CO(2) and NO, Friends and Foes of Plant Oxidative Stress. Front Plant Sci, 2018. 9: p. 273.

5. Energy, D.o. Fossil Fuels. Energy Sources; Available from:,buried%20by%20layers%20of%20rock.&text=Over%20the%20past%2020%20years,the%20burning%20of%20fossil%20fuels.

6. Chou, I.-M. and M. Sato. Thermochemistry of the formation of fossil fuels. 2014.

7. Zou, C., et al., Energy revolution: From a fossil energy era to a new energy era. Natural Gas Industry B, 2016. 3(1): p. 1-11.

8. Ambrose, J., Carbon emissions from fossil fuels could fall by 2.5bn tonnes in 2020. 2020, The Guardian.

9. J.A. Learmonth, C.D.M., et. al., Potential Effects of Climate Change on Marine Mammals, in Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review. 2006. p. 431-463.

10. Lafferty, K.D., The ecology of climate change and infectious diseases. Ecology, 2009. 90(4): p. 888-900.

11. Climate and Human Health. 2019, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

12. Grossi, G., et al., Livestock and climate change: impact of livestock on climate and mitigation strategies. Animal Frontiers, 2018. 9(1): p. 69-76.

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