Deepti Singh, an assistant professor in the School of the Environment at WSU Vancouver, drew on hundreds of studies on climate change, air quality, agriculture, and public health to propose a "systems lens," or scientific approach, that links health risks to concurrent environmental changes caused by human practices.
"The health effects of air pollution, climate change, and agricultural alterations are frequently studied in isolation," Singh said. "But these problems are linked because they all stem from the same place, and each one has an impact on the others. For example, agricultural activities contribute to air pollution and have an impact on regional climate patterns, while farm production and crop quality are affected by air quality and climate."
Singh studied the situation in South Asia in collaboration with researchers from Columbia University, the Indian School of Business, Boston University, and the University of Delaware. Rapid industrialization and modern farming practices have aided economic development and increased food production, but they have also harmed multiple aspects of human health.
"We're providing a framework for assessing the total health implications from different elements of Earth's natural systems, all of which are changing at the same time as a result of human activity," Singh explained. "The research could aid in the identification of policies and solutions that have many environmental and human health benefits."
Kyle Davis, co-author and assistant professor at the University of Delaware, said, "Our analysis offers fresh insight on the ways that food systems affect, and are affected by, climate change and air pollution."
Investigating Health Effects
The researchers looked at a variety of health effects caused by changes in climate, air quality, and agricultural output, as well as co-benefits and unexpected consequences of attempts to reduce emissions and conserve water.
These examples all point to the need for better tools and local, high-resolution data on health, weather, emissions, air pollution, and land use to quantify human and environmental impacts effectively.
"This study underscores the challenge with oversimplified explanations and highlights how meaningful and effective policy responses must take various aspects and interactions into consideration," said Ashwini Chhatre, co-author and associate professor of public policy at the Indian School of Business.
Fossil fuel use, crop residue burning, and changes to the landscape as a result of agricultural expansion and intensification have all contributed to extremely poor air quality in South Asia, altered the region's primary source of rainfall, the summer monsoon, and increased health risks for nearly a quarter of the world's population.
"In north India, late fall is 'pollution season,' which brings virulent disputes in our culture over who and what is contributing to it," Chhatre added.
Moreover, more frequent and severe heatwaves and floods have killed thousands of people, displaced millions, reduced labor output, and caused disease outbreaks. Air pollution has increased heart and lung ailments and millions of early deaths, and decreased monsoon rains. Simultaneously, air pollution and climate change have lowered the production of essential food crops.
"While the climatic advantages of today's reductions in greenhouse gas emissions may take decades to manifest, our methodology highlights some of the immediate health benefits, as well as unexpected effects, of policies aimed at reducing human influences on climate and the environment" Singh said.
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