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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