Women’s Health | April 2007

Global Warming Special Report Download PDF

Keep Your Cool  It’s pretty freakin’ impossible to ignore the fact that our climate is changing more dramatically than the co-host lineup on The View. Whether we have Al Gore to thank or the bazillion scientists and researchers who pelt us with warnings about melting glaciers and confused polar bears, global warming is no longer just a theory. Earth has a fever: It’s heating up because carbon dioxide (CO2)—a gas we produce when we bum fossil fuels like petroleum or coal to make the electricity that powers our high-wattage lives—is trapping heat from the sun that would normally bounce away into space. The CO2 acts like a layer of Saran Wrap around the planet, and like a bug in a roach motel, heat gets in but can’t get out. It’s what we call the greenhouse effect.

So what’s a little extra warmth? Is your life going to change that much? Well, it could—but not if you start doing some simple things now that’ll make a major difference later. We read dozens of reports, interviewed experts from climatologists to sustainable farmers to women just like you who are working (literally) to save the earth, and came up with 31 no-sweat fixes—none of which involve getting rid of your car and moving to a cabin in the woods._ Even if you tackle just a few of these, you’ll help preserve the planet so you can enjoy a healthy life for years to come. It may be getting hot in here, but that doesn’t mean you have to sweat it out.

How much would it suck to need an inhaler just to get through a 3-mile run? (Like we need another excuse to avoid working out!) Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the American Public Health Association says there’s a connection between global warming and increasing pollen counts. One study showed that if CO2 levels increase the amount of ragweed pollen will climb up to 61 percent. Scientist believe it’s one of the reasons nearly 20 million Americans now have asthma or allergies and could explain why we got 75 percent sneezier in the ‘80’s and 90’s. Twenty years from now, you might visit the allergist more often than you get a brow wax. Also, the air is getting dustier. Global warming = more droughts = more wildfires = more dust. Researchers at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego found that the frequency of wildfires out West has quadrupled in the last three decades, and they expect more of the same. It’s not just on the West Coast: Dust can hop an east-blowing wind and let loose anywhere in the country. But don’t break out the Y2K gas masks just yet. There are ways to prevent this. It all comes down to lowering the levels of CO2 in the air.

It would be a serious buzz kill if you planned a trip to one of our legendary national parks only to find that clouds of hungry mosquitos had taken the place of wild flower meadows. Or if you had to fly to a remote part of Canada whenever you wanted to shred the slopes. A couple of decades from now, if current weather trends continue, this might be a reality. Need proof? Look at what’s happening to Yellowstone National Park. According to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, hotter weather is changing the natural environment, making it possible for trees to grow higher in the mountains-meaning that the tree line is edging out wildflowers alpine meadow areas. Mosquitos thrive in warmer weather, and mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile virus will likely increase, experts say. As for the white stuff? A study by the Aspen Global Change Institute in Colorado predicts that annual snowfall in Aspen will drop steadily-and projects that there will be no skiable snow in the area by the end of the century. Less snow in general means less will melt into rivers and streams and water levels will fall. In the Thunder Creek Watershed area of Washington’s North Cascades National Park they’re already 31 percent lower than 50 years ago.

The good news: Fifty or so years from now, snorkeling vacations will be a bargain. The not-so-good news: All the pretty fish will be gone. Ocean temps have risen nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit since the ‘70’s, and they could get warmer still. CO2 is also making water more acidic, which dissolves the protective calcium carbonate that coral and plankton produce and rely on for survival; that in turn affects the rest of the marine food chain and the whole oceans ecosystem. Researchers predict the Australia’s Great Barrier Reef could be virtually dead by 2050. Without reefs to shelter them, tropical ecosystems are in trouble.

All this affects the weather too. Warm water fuels hurricanes, so expect bigger ones and more of them to hit coastal areas. As polar ice caps melt and spew freshwater into the oceans, sea levels will rise, possibly altering out coastlines. That influx of freshwater will also make oceans less salty. When their sale content gets out of whack, ocean currents veer off course like Nicole Richie behind the wheel. The result: freak tornados, epic blizzards, and long heat waves. Meanwhile, about three-fourths of the world’s freshwater comes from the glaciers that thaw a bit in the summer. As they shrink, freshwater will become scarce.

When it comes to climate change, faraway concepts like shrinking polar ice caps and dust-filled air seem as much of a reality is an office party on an episode of 24. But nothing hits home more than the food we put on our plates. And if global warming continues, our chow’s gonna change. Over the next couple of decades, you may need to fork over a buttload of cash to stock your fridge. The San Joaquin Valley in central California grows about half of all the fruit and vegetables we eat. But in the next 20 years, if it gets too warm to snow in the nearby Sierra Nevadas, the water for those crops will be scarce, forcing farmers to fork over more cash-and pass the cost on to you. Hot weather is a bum deal for livestock too. Last year, 2 weeks of 100-degree-plus temps in California killed over 333,000 animals in Fresno County alone, the nation’s number one agricultural region; farmers there suffered an estimated $114.7 million in loses. More such heat waves could push up the cost of milk, beef, and eggs. Wild seafood could be harder to come by, thanks in part to the acidic oceans (see “Your Water”), and we’ll have to rely mostly on farmed fish raised in artificially treated water.

Copyright © Michael Behar. All Rights Reserved.

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