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Climate change events may soon start affecting your brain functioning: Study

IANS Nov 27, 2023

Increasing extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, and hurricanes, and associated forest fires and floods caused by global warming may impact our brain function in the future, finds an alarming study.

In the new study, teams from the universities of Geneva, New York, Chicago, Washington, Stanford, and Exeter in the UK and the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, said that climate change events may change brain structure, function, and overall health, while calling for more research to evaluate how this may explain changes in well-being and behaviour.

The paper also explores the role that neuroscience can play in influencing the way we think about climate change, our judgments and how we respond.

"We’ve long known that factors in our environment can lead to changes in the brain. Yet we’re only just beginning to look at how climate change, the greatest global threat of our time, might change our brains," said lead author Dr Kimberly C. Doell from the University of Vienna in Austria.

"Given the increasingly frequent extreme weather events we’re already experiencing, alongside factors such as air pollution, the way we access nature and the stress and anxiety people experience around climate change, it’s crucial that we understand the impact this could all have on our brains. Only then can we start to find ways to mitigate these changes," he added.

Since the 1940s, scientists have known from experimental model studies that changing environmental factors can profoundly change the development and plasticity of the brain.

This effect has also been seen in humans in research looking at the effects of growing up in poverty, which found disturbances to brain systems, including lack of cognitive stimulation, exposure to toxins, poor nutrition, and heightened childhood stress.

While not entirely surprising, the new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change highlights the profound impact that one’s environment can have on their brain.

"Both brain function and climate change are highly complex areas. We need to start seeing them as interlinked, and to take action to protect our brains against the future realities of climate change, and start using our brains better to cope with what is already happening and prevent the worst-case scenarios," said Dr Mathew White, of the Universities of Exeter and Vienna.

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