Climate Change Impacts Health, Families, and Wallets

Climate Change Impacts Health, Families, and Wallets May 19, 2017

“Believe it or not, when it comes to climate change, many people are not all that concerned about animal extinction or the plight of future generations.”

sugarcane worker

When my fellow climate activist Peterson Toscano posted this observation on Facebook, I was cut to the quick.  I know it doesn’t matter to most people, but animal extinction really concerns me. Human beings causing this massive wave of extinctions – what biologist are calling the 6th great extinction – grieves me greatly.  And it breaks my heart knowing that future generations will not experience the full beauty of this Earth, while also suffering the consequences of our rampant pollution of the land, waters, and air.

But I must admit – my friend is right.

Because I’ve heard the dismissal of concerns about climate change many times out of the mouths of people who I thought would care.  And many of those people are Christians who should care, given their professed faith in the one who called us to care for  “the least of these.”  But no matter how much I think the ethics of our faith should be extended to our neighbors within the other-than-human world and to generations of people we will never meet, that is simply not the reality. Humans, generally speaking, care most about their personal circumstances, immediate family, and short-term impacts on their wallets.

So why should someone care about climate change? Are there any immediate impacts on our health, family, or wallets?  As a matter of fact, there are.

Did you know that climate change has contributed to a rise in kidney disease in Central America? Farm laborers are exposed to increasingly high temperatures due to a rapidly warming climate, and they are experiencing dehydration at alarming rates.  But because they do not have access to clean water, they drink bottled sodas, and their bodies don’t flush away the toxins.  And because they have limited access to health care (which they can barely afford in the first place), these workers are dying.  That’s one reason we should care about climate change.

But maybe the concerns of Central America are not as important to you.

How about immigration and refugees?

If this is an issue that concerns you, it’s important to know that climate change played a role in the 7 million displaced persons fleeing from the oppressive Assad regime in Syria.  Between 2006 – 2011, over half of the country suffered under the worst drought on record.  The intensity and length of the drought was due to climate change.  When nearly 1 million rural villagers lose their farms and crowd into the cities, this exacerbates the already tense conditions where water, food, and access to resources are in short supply.  Even if the country recovers politically, Syria is projected to lose nearly 50% more of its agricultural capacity by 2050.  This means the immigration crisis is not going away anytime soon.  That’s another reason why you should care about climate change.

But maybe Syrian refugees are not on your doorstep.

How about something a little closer to home – like the food on your table?

If you eat seafood, you need to care about climate change.
If you eat seafood, you need to care about climate change.

Did you know that a recent study on the state of the planet’s oceans by the Georgia Institute of Technology reveals that rapid warming due to climate change is leading to deoxygenation? According to a recent report in the website Science Daily, “The amount of dissolved oxygen contained in the water – an important measure of ocean health – has been declining for more than 20 years.”  Not having enough oxygen in Earth’s “bloodstream” is leading to a kind of environmental hypoxia, a condition that, for humans, results in organ damage and even catastrophic failure. This affects the foundational level of the ocean’s food web – phytoplankton.  A disruption of this organism’s survival will have devastating effects across the entire food chain – right up to our dinner plates.  If you eat fish or seafood, you should care about climate change.

So, yes, climate change is affecting health, families, national security, and our food supply, to name just a few impacts.  Earth’s body and our bodies are connected.  It’s past time to care about both.

Want to learn more?  Check out:  “Why Changing Light Bulbs May be Hurting the Climate Movement.”

What can a person of faith do about climate change?  Click here.

[This op-ed was originally printed in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, May 18, 2017.]

Leah Schade, EcoPreacherLeah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-CrisisPreaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).  

You can follow Leah on Twitter at @LeahSchade, and on Facebook at

Leah will be presenting at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Spring, NC, July 14 and 15!  Her session info is available here:  Enter the special code BEMYGUEST for a 25% discount on tickets!

Photo credits:

Sugarcane worker, Puerto Rico.  Library of Congress.  No known copyright restrictions.

Family dinner.  Dennis Crowley.  Some rights reserved.


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  • See Noevo
    • Guthrum

      Most people around here aren’t buying it. They say that the temperature was warmer 50-60 years ago.

      • Taktrina

        I went to an exhibit in Minnesota that pointed out that temperatures were significantly warmer in the Minnesota area thousands of years go. And human beings survived it cooling down significantly.

        • gimpi1

          Thousands of years ago, there were fewer than a million human beings, and they were mostly hunter-gathers. Our society, and humanity in its billions is nowhere as adaptable as a few small bands.

          Also, sometimes they didn’t. The Younger Dryas in the Americas almost wiped out the human population. The Toba event came close to rendering us extinct – reducing our numbers to between 5,000 and 6,000 individuals.

          Climate change as we are currently experiencing it will not likely lead to our extinction. It may, however, kill billions of people and cause huge suffering, suffering and death that we could have avoided, had we made a little effort. We could still mitigate it with some effort and research. For the life of me, I can’t understand why “do nothing” is the preferred solution for so many people.

          The U.S. had so much power in the 20th century because it developed a great deal of the systems for using oil. In the 19th century, it was Great Britain and coal. Remember, we’ve already passed Peak Oil. From now on, oil reserves will be more expensive to reach and harvest. The future will belong to the society that figures out how to transition to renewable energy sources. I also don’t understand why people don’t want that society to be us.

  • Festus

    Here’s an interesting thing. You mention phytoplankton as the foundation of the oceans food chain – although you did call it a “web” which is not quite right but we’ll let that go – and you are right. They are the foundation of the food chain. The thing is you said that the lack of oxygen from a warming ocean is the problem.


    Oxygen is a gas dissolved in the waters and as the heat rises the ability of gases to stay dissolved is reduced hence the gas leaves. Carbon dioxide is also a gas dissolved in the waters and it also leaves as the termperature rises.
    Now here’s the rub. What do phytoplankton need to grow and flourish?
    Take your own tip from the link you provided at the end of the article and educate yourself.

    Phytoplankton are photosynthetic organisms and like all plants that photosynthesis there is one thing they need to produce food. Can you tell what it is yet? Here’s a hint. You and those who present the argument you are trying to make want less of it in the air. Yes, carbon dioxide.

    Phytoplankton are in trouble not because there isn’t enough oxygen in the water, although that is an issue too, but because there isn’t enough carbon dioxide.

    Both oxygen and carbon dioxide are leaving the oceans because of warming and the only way to recover the phytoplankton is to increase the CO2 in the water. But you cannot because the water is too warm.

    On the same link that says “Educate yourself” you also argue “divest from fossil fuels” Why? The only reason I can think if is because you see carbon dioxide as a problem. But phytoplankton need carbon dioxide to grow and become food for everything else that eats them. They also need carbon dioxide to produce oxygen to oxygenate the waters they live in.

    Carbon dioxide is not causing the planet to warm. It is helping to keep the planet from freezing but it is not causing the planet to warm. It is a consequence of a warming planet. As the oceans warm they release carbon dioxide, hence carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere are a result of warming, not the cause.

    That there is more carbon dioxide in the air would normally be a good thing, if we had the plants to use it but that is were there is a more serious problem which you never addressed. Deforestation and desertification.
    We need more tropical rainforests to be restored, not deforested to make way for soda drinking farmers trying to produce corn and sugar cane for the biofuel market.

    Deforestation and other denudation leads to drought, not rising carbon dioxide.

    The climate is changing but the reason there seems to be too much carbon dioxide is not because man is producing it but because there are not enough plants, and in particular rainforests, to absorb it.

    Oh, and did you know that the greatest extinction threat to animals is rainforest destruction? That is where most of the extinctions are occurring.

    We used to call environmentalists “tree huggers”. It’s a shame the trees have been forgotten about in this latest propaganda war.

    Please, take your own advice and educate yourself on the science of what you are talking about. We need carbon dioxide and we need plants. Find out why.

    • swbarnes2

      Humans are taking out huge amounts of carbon, in the form of oil and coal, and burning it, turning it into CO2. And we are doing that way faster than the CO2 absorbing phenomena can catch up. We don’t need more CO2. What we need is for the earth to either stay about the same temp, or to change temps as slowly as possible. As much as plants like more CO2, they don’t like warmer weather, because parasites like warmer weather much much more. We aren’t just talking about more dandelions, we’re talking about Zika moving northward.

      • Festus

        ” As much as plants like more CO2, they don’t like warmer weather,”

        Please explain why the tropical rainforests and the densest jungles on the planet are in the equatorial zones – where its really really warm.

        When you’ve managed that you can move on to explaining to gardeners and farmers why greenhouses designed to keep plants warmer than the weather allows is a bad idea.

        You do also know that the oceans release a heck of lot more CO2 than humans ever could?

        and do you know that Zika is mosquito borne and not plant borne, and doesn’t affect plants?

        If you want less CO2 going around do something about the plant life where it matters most – tropical rainforests and equatorial jungles. We need more of them. They are really good at mopping up CO2 and producing O2.
        Hint hint, There was a lot more acreage given over to jungles and forests in pre-industrialized times. There was a lot more oxygen in the atmosphere back then too.

        • Terry Tremwel

          “There was a lot more oxygen in the atmosphere back then, too.”
          No, there wasn’t. By volume, dry air contains 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide (easy to look up). Large percent changes in CO2 correlate with tiny changes in O2 concentration in the atmosphere. CO2 has increased from about 280 ppm (0.0280%) to over 405 ppm (0.0405%) in the recent 150 years after being stable for 10,000 to 12,000 years.

          As recorded by Scripps Institution of Oceanography:
          “A companion phenomenon of emitting CO2 into the atmosphere is the loading of the oceans with elevated levels of carbon dioxide created by fossil fuel burning and other human activities.”

          “Recent estimates have calculated that 26 percent of all the carbon released as CO2 from fossil fuel burning, cement manufacture, and land-use changes over the decade 2002–2011 was absorbed by the oceans. (About 28 percent went to plants and roughly 46 percent to the atmosphere.) During this time, the average annual total release of was 9.3 billion tons of carbon per year, thus on average 2.5 billion tons went into the ocean annually.”

          • Festus

            You quote scripps but scripps agree that oxygen levels in the atmosphere are falling too. Unfortunately scripps also ignore the significant role the forests play in the carbon, oxygen and water cycles in favour of talking about fossil fuel combustion. Heaven knows why.

            Scripps also say that because the oceans are warming they cannot absorb CO2 as well as when they are cooler.


            I’m sure you mean well but trying to beat me up so you look good instead of learning about the real issues at stake here is not helping.

        • gimpi1

          Plants evolve in different conditions, and therefore thrive in different conditions. Any gardener knows this. You plant your peas and lettuce early, since those plants don’t do well in the warmth of summer. You plant your tomatoes and squash later, since those plants don’t do well in the cool early spring.

          Many of our most important crops thrive in a set temperature range, and are much less productive outside of it. That includes being too warm. Many other organisms have the same limitations. It’s easy to see why changing oceanic temperatures, oxygen levels and chemical structure could cause great harm to oceanic plants.

      • Guthrum

        But this thing of trying to change the temperature – what if they mess up and get it going back too far the other way ? Sorry, but I don’t mind hot summers – we’ve always had those around here. Warmer winters would be nice.
        The EPA figures show that harmful air emissions (air pollution) has declined since 1980. The US is already meeting the goals.

        • gimpi1

          As I pointed out, above, many of our most important food crops thrive in a specific temperature range. Go outside of that range, and harvests drop sharply. If the plants don’t die outright, their production is greatly reduced. Then, also remember that longer droughts are part-and-parcel of the climate change we’re seeing. Droughts savage crop production, as I’m sure you know.

          Do you mind doubled food-prices? Because that could be an affect of a much warmer climate.

  • bill wald

    There have already been 2 mass extinctions that killed off 90% of the critters on this planet . . . and here we are.

  • John Purssey

    As Paul Simon said in “Have a Good Time” on his 1975 album “Still Crazy After All These Years.

    Maybe I’m laughing my way to disaster
    Maybe my race has been run
    Maybe I’m blind
    To the fate of mankind
    But what can be done?

    So God bless the goods we was given
    And God bless the U. S. of A.
    And God bless our standard of livin’
    And let’s keep it that way

    And we’ll all have a good time

  • Festus

    The oceans are not acidic. Get some ph test papers and get out there and test it.

    It’s alkaline. and becomes more alkaline as the planet warms.

    Ocean acidification is more science denial pseudoscience. The ocean is a buffer solution and has to be due to the volume of CO2 it absorbs in cold water. If CO2 absorption was going to make the oceans acid it would be evident at the polar oceans.
    It isn’t, so it’s not.

    You cannot “balance” Henry’s Law

    At a constant temperature, the amount of a given gas dissolved in a given type and volume of liquid is directly proportional to the partial pressure of that gas in equilibrium with that liquid.

    So to say that as temperature increase the solubility of one gas increases while the solubility of another decreases is idiotic.

    “That is left for future study, …” Appealing to future knowledge. That’s a fallacy right there.

    “How can CO2 magically keep the planet from freezing without warming? If
    two blankets are what you need, but your host put three blankets on your
    bed, would you not take one off? ”

    Do you really expect me to argue with someone who thinks that blankets generate warmth?
    Yes, you can say that the CO2 acts like a blanket but tell me, where does the heat come from? It doesn’t come from the CO2, or the blanket.

    Circling back – if the CO2 is reduced, and the water vapor and contrails and everything else that acts like “a greenhouse” is removed such that the planet cools what will happen the oceans?
    They will cool and absorb more CO2 and become acidic. Or more correctly the pH will lower. See Henry’s Law. Learn it. Understand it.

    You are aware that cold kills more than heat does, aren’t you? They give old people fuel vouchers in the winter. They don’t get air-conditioning vouchers in the summer, do they?

    “We have 45% too much CO2” Say’s who. How do we know what too much CO2 is? The planet was far more productive in the past when there was a lot more CO2. The plants were bigger and so were the animals. Go figure.

    I’m all for reducing toxic pollutants but CO2 isn’t a toxin until it gets to seriously high concentrations. We currently at 400ppm. We can survive right up to 60,000ppm before it becomes a toxin. We’ve got a ways to go to get to that point and we would need to burn more fossil fuel than exists on this planet. We’d probably need the fossil fuels from another 20 planets to get to that point.

    I think you trying to talk to me about balance when you don’t even understand why tropical rainforests are where they are – in the tropics – is worrisome. They are there for a reason. That is where most of the CO2 is released by the oceans because that is where the oceans are the warmest. There is more CO2 there and that is what they thrive on. CO2 and heat. Lots and lots of heat. Having trees in other parts of the world is not balanced and does not have the same effect. Trees in other parts of the world cannot absorb the same amount of CO2 and they cannot release the same amount of O2.

    Feel free to believe whatever you want to believe but seriously, go and learn some real science.

  • Guthrum

    The past few summers have been warmer, but 98 degrees is not much different than 95 degrees. Now the winters have been some warmer and our utilities bill shows a lot of savings the last few years. That more than offsets the a.c. bill. So how is that a bad thing ? Seems this climate thing is not a bad deal for us around here.

    • gimpi1

      I addressed you above, on food. However, I would also like to point out that one of the things the author of this post was talking about was our selfishness as human beings. I’m not trying to call you names, but do you truly not care if your lower energy bills starve out a village in sub-Saharan Africa? Do you want warmer winters, knowing that those warmer temperatures are killing people in the Southern Hemisphere?

      I assume you do care. I have to say, I don’t see that in your post. I’ll put it to the room: Do Christians care more about their own comfort and saving a few dollars than the lives of people around the world that they will never see?