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If anyone else suffers from allergies, maybe someone out there can empathize: I have been absolutely slammed by them this year. Sneezing, eyes swelling till they're almost locked shut, itching--man, it's the worst. I've spent the last couple days just hiding indoors and thinking to myself 'I swear, it's never been this bad,' as my left hand fights off my right to keep it from rubbing my eye. Reading this paragraph back, it occurs to me that another explanation may be that I've simply gone insane. But then, I read this headline in Time through my crusty, squinted left eye: Allergies Worse Than Ever? Blame Global Warming. And then I sighed: time for a post. First of all, let me make this absolutely clear: no, my allergies are not scientific proof for global warming--suck though they do. But it turns out they might get worse over the years as increasingly warmer spring seasons speed plant growth and pollen counts skyrocket thanks to climate change.
Here's what's happening right now, according to TIME,
Thanks to an unusually cold and snowy winter, followed by an early and warm spring, pollen counts are through the roof in much of the U.S., especially in the Southeast, which is already home to some of the most allergenic cities in the country. A pollen count -- the number of grains of pollen in a cubic meter of air -- of 120 is considered high, but in Atlanta last week the number hit 5,733, the second highest level ever recorded in the city.Almost 6,000 grains of pollen in a single cubic meter of air! Aaah! That's the stuff of nightmares for the allergy-afflicted. Now, I'm up in New York, so the pollen count probably isn't that high, but the same cold winter/warm spring phenomenon has certainly occurred here. But how does that lead to a higher pollen count? Time explains:
Here's how it works: higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere generally speed plant growth, while warmer temperatures mean that spring -- and with it, allergy season -- arrives earlier. Spring-like conditions in the East are already arriving on average 14 days earlier than just 20 years ago.Enter the impact climate change will have on allergies:
Pollen from ragweed, which triggers most cases of spring hay fever, is projected to increase up to 100% between now and 2085 if fossil-fuel emissions continue to rise unabated. And more CO2 could make the ragweed pollen that exists more potent: if CO2 concentrations rise from current levels (385 parts per million) to 600 parts p.p.m., which could happen as soon as mid-century, ragweed pollen could become up to 70% more allergenic. An earlier, longer spring will just give ragweed more time to grow and give off pollen.But wait, there's more: climate change, it turns out, is likely to favor trees that give off pollen as opposed to those that don't. And as an added bonus, people with asthma are going to have it worse, too--asthma is often triggered by allergenic reactions. If all this sounds like a bit of a nightmare for allergic folks, rest assured that it will be something of a nightmare for everyone else, too: "the effect of climate change could push the economic cost of allergies and asthma well above the current $32 billion price tag." So health costs will certainly rise, too, on the current emissions path we're on.
As the Time article aptly concludes, "absent a concerted effort to reduce carbon emissions, get ready for a sniffly future." Which, of course, is bad news for me and my allergenic brethren.
PS: Excuse any typos, my eyelids have swelled to the size of oranges. And I know I'm not literally literally allergic to global warming. But still.
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