Why the CF Community Should Be Concerned About Climate Change
Climate change is an emergency facing humanity. As we continue to burn fossil fuels and release greenhouse gases, solar heat levels build up in the atmosphere, which acts as an incubator, causing our planet to get hotter.
Some populations will be more severely affected by climate change than others — these include coastal communities, those living in developing countries, and people with respiratory diseases such as cystic fibrosis (CF) and asthma. We are no longer talking about decades into the future. I believe climate change will begin to adversely affect our community in the coming years.
Climate change, or global warming, is human-induced. While the earth does experience climate cycles, or oscillations, these are not the same as the recent developments we’re seeing. The scientific consensus is that human activities are altering our climate at unprecedented rates and near-irreversible levels. While I don’t want to be alarmist, we need to accept that we are facing a legitimate global crisis.
It’s difficult to predict how increased temperatures will affect people with respiratory diseases, but we can make some assumptions. As the earth continues to heat up, there is an “increased risk of unhealthful ozone levels.” Ground-level ozone is also known as smog. The American Lung Association warns, “As temperatures rise, plants produce more pollen, increasing ragweed and other allergens.” Higher temperatures increase the risk of wildfires, which have implications for those with respiratory and cardiac diseases because of the “microscopic particles found in wildfire smoke.”
All the complications mentioned will affect those with any lung disease, not just CF. It’s difficult to find an in-depth examination of how climate change will specifically affect the CF community, perhaps because of a lack of focus or challenges with prognosticating on such a complex issue.
When considering how increased temperatures will affect us, we should look at how Pseudomonas aeruginosa — the key bacterial agent of CF lung infections — spreads among global populations.
Research published in Plos One found, “Ambient temperature is associated with prevalence of P. aeruginosa and lung function in four independent samples of CF patients from two continents.” Put another way: In four different samples — consisting of almost 20,000 CF patients worldwide — warmer temperatures were associated with poorer lung function and higher culture rates of P. aeruginosa. Based on these findings, I think it’s reasonable to assume that rising global temperatures will adversely affect CF populations.
From another study of the environmental impact on infections in CF comes this quote: “The environment may also play an important role in the acquisition of Gram-negative organisms other than P. aeruginosa.” The research findings also pointed to emerging data, which suggest that environmental factors are likely to increase the risk of infections with naturally occurring fungi and nontuberculous mycobacteria — both of which are relevant to CF.
The authors of a study titled “Perception of climate change in patients with chronic lung disease” warned that “overall, patients are more sensitive to health-related consequences of climate change. Yet the hazard of heat-days seems underestimated and awareness should be raised.”
Finally, even 15 years ago, scientists found that increased exposure to atmospheric pollutants was associated with greater risk of pulmonary exacerbations in those with CF.
The subject of climate change is so daunting that it seems easier to avoid thinking about it. But we must find reasons to be hopeful, or at least encouraged. We must advocate and spread awareness to those who are undecided on whether climate change is a significant threat.
Those of us with chronic lung diseases can’t afford to be complacent. (And why should we? The scientific community almost universally agrees that we need to take immediate action.) We must act for the good of our planet and our fellow co-inhabitants. And we must demand to have our voices heard.
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