The Effects of Climate Change on the World’s Population
Written by Hailey Tapia, Spring 2022 Editorial Intern at Berkeley Pharma Tech.
Over the past decade, climate change has become increasingly prominent on Earth. The world witnessed numerous wildfires, weather fluctuations, more intense heat waves, and more frequent snowstorms between 2019 and 2020, but the most shocking change is in comparison to the last 50 years. Since the late 19th century, the planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2.12 degrees Fahrenheit (1.18 degrees Celsius), and every year has been hotter than the previous. The ocean’s surface has also heated up by more than 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.33 degrees Celsius) since 1969. Additionally, carbon dioxide levels in the air are the highest they have been in 650,000 years.
Climate change has multiple effects on human health. According to the CDC, climate change increases respiratory and cardiovascular disease, disease carried by vectors, allergens, and pollen. And in urban environments, the warmer atmosphere traps and increases smog and ground level ozone, overexposure to which can cause serious health conditions. These include asthma, heart disease, and lung cancer. Other consequences of climate change might be more indirect, such as lengthened pollen seasons that can worsen allergies.
Equally important is the influence climate change has on people’s mental health. Extreme weather events have proven to cause stress related disorders in a phenomenon called “common reactions to extreme weather events.” For example, research demonstrated high levels of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder among individuals affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Alongside the health and environmental risks are climate change’s costly economics that pose a threat to a sustainable future. Morgan Stanley reports that climate-related disasters cost the world around $650 billion from 2016 to 2018. The main toll has been in the agriculture sector, where more variable weather has made it difficult for crops to grow. In fact, global warming could depress growth in agricultural yields up to 30% by 2050, which would impact up to 500 million small farms worldwide.
Through these mechanisms, climate change is becoming evident in every facet of life. From the neighborhoods in which we live to the jobs we have, we all are being exposed to different levels of extreme heat. However, we experience the ramifications of climate change unequally. As reported by the United Nations, poor and marginalized communities disproportionately feel the effects of climate change, raising a term called “climate justice” that recognizes how differently groups (rich versus poor; men versus women; younger versus older generations) are affected by the phenomenon.
To address these social and economic inequalities and prevent the effects of climate change from becoming irreversible, it is important to use our scientific understanding and technology to tackle this problem. Some of the proposed strategies involve the use of nuclear energy, renewable energy, and bio sequestration. Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions to produce electricity, and it can be obtained from nuclear fission, nuclear decay, and nuclear fusion reactions. Presently, the vast majority of electricity from nuclear power is produced by nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium in nuclear power plants. Renewable resources include biomass energy (like ethanol), hydropower, geothermal power, wind energy, and solar energy. Despite the potential all these solutions hold, they unfortunately accompany other drawbacks, such as unsustainable operating costs and increased pollution.
These principles motivated our team to base our solution on a natural process that transfers carbon out of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide — as well as methane, nitrous oxide, and others — is a greenhouse gas that absorbs and re-emits energy. The re-emitted energy is responsible for heating the Earth and creating the greenhouse effect. Other reasons for the rise in carbon dioxide are the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, biomass burning, and cement production. Modern agricultural practices, like tillage and overuse of synthetic fertilizers, have further exacerbated this problem. Against this background, simply reducing CO2 emissions will not be sufficient; a viable solution to climate change must comprise a method of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere.
Carbon sequestration is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in plants, soils, geologic formations, and the ocean. Currently, carbon is emitted into the atmosphere at a faster rate than it is sequestered into soils. Research efforts intend to accelerate the carbon sequestration process so that carbon is sequestered at a faster rate than it is emitted.
The urgency of global climate action has not gone unnoticed by Berkeley Pharma Tech, which is why we fight this issue. Our approach employs CRISPR technology, a naturally occurring defense system in bacteria that can be used for gene editing. Among the prospects is the optimization of redwood trees to capture carbon. Trees take in carbon dioxide, release oxygen, and store carbon through carbon sequestration. For this, redwood trees are particularly ideal: they absorb up to 981 U.S. tons of CO2 per acre, more per acre than any other forest type on the planet — as supported by the findings of Save the Redwoods League and the Yale School of the Environment — they can live to more than 2,000 years and grow to over 360 feet in height, and they are naturally capable of capturing carbon.
About Berkeley Pharma Tech
Based in Silicon Valley, Berkeley Pharma Tech is a biotechnology incubator for today’s young scientists. We are making strides toward medical revolutions through a variety of avenues, including biomedical research, cryptocurrency engineering, and software development. Our goal for the CRISPR project is to create a cleaner, more vibrant environment for the next generation, with net zero — a state of balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions and their removal from the atmosphere — being a focal point. For more information about the CRISPR project and Berkeley Pharma Tech, visit our website or any of our social media channels below.