Habitable Air

Exploring the Potential Impact of Climate Change and Altered Ecology on Respiratory Health in Durban, South Africa

Climate change is a major concern for many communities across the world, with one of its many effects being altered ecology. Longer pollen seasons caused by increasing temperatures, for example, lead to a higher release of pollutants into the air, posing significant risks to those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma. South Africa ranks 25th in the world for asthma prevalence and 5th for asthma mortality, with an estimated 18.5 deaths per 100 000 asthma cases, many of which are likely undiagnosed. It is also important to highlight the impact of imported flora as they can be responsible for increased pollen levels in the air, with oaks in South Africa emitting more pollen than native plants.

Imported flora increases the amount of pollen in the air as these plants may not be adapted to the environment, resulting in more pollen released into the air. Additionally, these plants may not be as drought tolerant as native species, resulting in more water use and greater pollen release. Jacaranda trees siphon off South Africa’s limited water supply. Consequently, the government has banned the planting of new jacaranda trees and has so far freed more than 3-million acres of foreign invasive species, all commendable efforts.


Biomedical and traditional methods of treatment

The effects of climate change and altered ecology are staggering and pose a significant issue in medical anthropology. Since disease is often a product of social and political processes, it is important to consider the social implications of such situations as well as what can be done to heal and treat those affected. This includes a combination of biomedical and traditional methods of treatment. Biomedical treatments for asthma include medication (such as inhalers, steroids, and bronchodilators) to reduce inflammation, improve lung function, and control symptoms. Traditional treatments can include herbal medicine, massage, breathing exercises, and acupuncture, which can be used in conjunction with biomedical methods to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.


Studying Climate Change’s Impact through Ethnographic Methods

It is important to study altered ecology in the context of climate change using ethnographic methods because it allows us to gain a better understanding of the social and cultural implications of climate change. In the Habitable Air project, there is a good appreciation that the effects of climate change are not limited to just the physical environment, but also have social, economic, and cultural implications. Through ethnographic methods such as participant observations and interviews, we can gain in-depth knowledge of how climate change is impacting people’s lives. We can also gain insight into how individuals and communities are adapting to the changing environment, as well as the challenges and opportunities that arise from these changes. This knowledge can then inform policy and decision-making at the local, regional, and national levels, as well as contribute to the development of strategies and interventions to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.


Moreover, studying altered ecology using ethnographic methods can also help to shed light on the often-neglected voices and perspectives of those most affected by climate change. By involving local communities in the research process, we can ensure that their perspectives and experiences are considered when developing policies and interventions to address the impacts of climate change. This can help to promote more equitable and just solutions to the challenges posed by climate change and ensure that those most affected have a say in shaping the future of their communities and environments.

Overall, climate change is a concerning issue that needs addressing as its effects can be felt by many people. Altered ecology has a tremendous impact on the air and our respiratory health, and it is vital to recognise both its effects and how we can work to mitigate them. Habitable Air over the next 4 years and beyond has this as a primary research goal.