How Climate Change will affect your Work Conditions


Courtesy of Courtesy of SafetySmart

After the major discussions regarding Climate Change this month in Paris, 5 key points of the Paris Agreement on climate change are being presented:

  1. Limiting global temperature rise to “well below” 2 C
  2. Creation of the first universal climate agreement
  3. Providing help to poorer nations
  4. Each country publishing their greenhouse gas reduction targets, and maintaining these
  5. Reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 (meaning the amount of carbon produced can reasonably be absorbed by the earth and the ocean).

China will need to make the most drastic emission cuts, with them currently being the number 1 carbon dioxide polluter in the word (making up more than ¼ of the world’s emissions). And while reducing our emissions now will be a key part of our overall climate survival, we must recognize that carbon dioxide stays in the air for a least a century – meaning that all the historical emissions that have occurred over the past 100 years are still relevant today, 18% of which came from the United States.

While the agreement is a big step in the right direction, many are still pointing out that these goals alone won’t be enough to keep temperatures from rising less than 2C this century.

To put it in perspective, a rise of 2-4 C would mean catastrophic global issues, including: crop failure, flooding, disease, limited water, wildfires, rising water, changing environment, extreme heat, harm to animal and plant life, and social and economic instability.

We’ve already seen some of these catastrophes, with events like Hurricane Sandy, and the infestation of the Mountain Pine Beetle.

In 2010 the global financial cost of damage associated with climate change was approximately $591 billion, with it being estimated that the costs will rise $5 billion annually by 2020.

Climate change issues won’t be something observed from afar, they will be showing up right at your place of work. There will be several occupational risks, including:

  1. Heat Stroke: Higher temperatures mean an increased risk of heat illnesses, reduced vigilance regarding safety and an increased risk of injury and irritability that may lead to carelessness. 
  2. Respiratory Disease: L long exposure to polluted air could lead to chronic health effects, such as respiratory diseases or allergies. And with the predicted rise in wildfires, particulate matter and other air pollutants will be on the rise. A bad sign for outdoor workers. 
  3. Flooding: Extreme weather like floods, landslides, storms, lightning, droughts, and wildfires will become more frequent, and natural disasters like these could occur while at the workplace – leading to deaths, injuries and diseases. There could also be implications for mental health.
  4. Infrastructure Damage: Extreme weather could also lead to damage to infrastructure and buildings, making workplaces themselves more hazardous.
  5. Disease: Changing temperatures and shifting rainfall can affect habitats of vectors, pathogens, hosts and allergens. Increased prevalence and distribution of water-borne and food-borne pathogens could affect workers, particularly emergency responders and healthcare workers. Pollen may increase from earlier flowering and longer pollen seasons. Increasing numbers of hurricanes and floods could lead to more buildings with mould, which may lead to allergic as well as non-allergic or irritant asthma.
  6. Poisonous Plants and Animals: Increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may increase the growth and distribution of poison ivy and other poisonous plants, as well as increase populations of ticks and mosquitos. As a result, outdoor workers may be at increased risk for mosquito-borne diseases (such as West Nile virus) and tick-borne diseases (such as Lyme disease). Lastly, expanded vector ranges and the introduction of diseases not previously prevalent in the US or Canada (such as dengue and chikungunya viruses) will result in the increased use of pesticides, potentially placing workers at increased risk for exposure.
  7. New Occupational Risks: Additionally, new “greener” technologies that will need to be developed mean we will be facing an all new set of job hazards we don’t currently have control over.

There are a few steps we need to all take in order to avoid these catastrophic issues. First, each individual needs to make a commitment to supporting their government’s climate change endeavors, and pushing their government to make firm decisions in the interest of a greener future. Second, finding alternative transportation from your vehicle (or even car-pooling) will make a significant impact. Third, reducing your energy use at home and properly insulating your property is necessary. Finally, making smarter options while shopping and trying to lessen the amount of animal products consumed (particularly red meat whose industry is one of the higher contributors to climate change) will make an enormous impact as well.

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