How does this relate to public health?
Disproportionally high levels of carbon dioxide in the air can result in higher amounts dissolved in the ocean, causing acidification and harm to ecosystems in the water.1 Studies have shown that certain marine species such as conchs, hard claims, and tropical urchins struggle to grow new shells or suffer from shell deterioration when exposed to elevated levels of carbon dioxide. Conversely, other species with more protective shells such as crustaceans, temperate urchins, mussels, and coralline red algae can create heavier shells under elevated carbon dioxide conditions.2 Many of these species hold promise to treat human illness, as well as provide incentive for numerous recreational activities.
With respect to air quality, increased levels of carbon dioxide contribute to earlier pollen seasons, which may exacerbate or cause allergic diseases.1 Higher carbon dioxide levels are contributing to higher evaporation rates, which may threaten global water supplies. A 2006 study found that current levels of severe drought worldwide (3%) may be as high as 30% by 2100.3
Carbon dioxide is also a major contributor to global warming and climate change via rising temperatures. Warmer temperatures may lead to increased frequency and severity of heat-related illnesses and reduced water and air quality, which in turn have a variety of adverse effects on human health. These include increased risk for cancer, food-borne and waterborne illnesses, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diseases from insect bites and spread of diseases from animals to humans, mental health and stress-related illnesses, and human developmental effects.1
|Figure B: Carbon dioxide levels are affecting the acidity of the seas and increased concentrations in the oceans are hindering the growth and survival of marine animals
|Image from EPA
1Portier CJ, et al. 2010. A human health perspective on climate change: a report outlining the research needs on the human health effects of climate change. Research Triangle Park, NC: Environmental Health Perspectives/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. doi:10.1289/ehp.1002272 <www.niehs.nih.gov/climatereport> Accessed November 17, 2012.
2Ries, J. B., Cohen, A. L., & McCorkle, D. C. (2009). Marine calcifiers exhibit mixed responses to CO2-induced ocean acidification. Geology, 37(12), 1131-1134.
3Manuel, J. 2008. Drought in the Southeast: Lessons for water management. Environews: Spheres of influence. Apr 116(4):A168-A171.