IT'S BEEN quite a time for us here in Glasgow with COP26 these last couple of weeks.

Having been cited as our last chance of hope at tackling the climate emergency, it is important we understand that it’s not just about saving the planet; climate change is closely linked to our own health.

We have heard some of the speeches, maybe caught some sound bites from very important leaders attending the climate change conference, but has it been enough to spark the change we really need?

I recently went around the city centre of Glasgow as part of a project to interview some members of the general public about their thoughts on climate change. It was really interesting for me to hear the huge range of viewpoints from people of mixed ages and backgrounds but one thing that struck me was how little we understood the impact of climate change on our own health and wellbeing.

My children have been learning about climate change at school and nursery and it has warmed my heart that they are being educated on such an important topic, one that truly impacts their future.

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We depend on our planet to be both healthy and thriving because not only does it give us food, and water, it supplies us with the air we need to survive. However, the stark reality is that we are destroying these basic resources at a catastrophic rate, with huge emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere. The knock-on effect on our plants and our wildlife too ultimately mounts a significant impact on our health - we are all connected.

Humans however are selfish beings, never truly appreciating how their actions now could affect us tomorrow. As we have greedily seeked to secure more energy, have more food and build more and more, at each stage we have risked global human health. We really need to action change fast.

My son has been learning all about fossil fuels at school recently, something I’m learning more about too. How to reduce the burning of fossil fuels has been one of the main talking points at COP26 and it’s something we all need to understand why. Fossil fuels are formed from burning the fossilised remains of dead animals and plants, all to get carbon-containing energy eg. Crude oil, natural gas and coal.

Coal burning is a huge problem and there are some countries that are burning way more than others but the problem is that it affects everyone. Coal and crude oil burning not only releases carbon dioxide and methane, two of the worst greenhouse gases, but it also releases sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury into the air – all of which are harmful to human health.

Over the years, as air pollution has become a leading public health issue, there has been a coinciding increase in the number of people with heart and lung conditions.

We’ve long known that those who work in coal mines are at a much higher risk of developing lung diseases like emphysema and bronchitis; both conditions obstruct airways and make it difficult to breathe. Those who live near coal stations and breathe in the air that contains the harmful components that coal-burning releases, are also at higher risk of suffering from these conditions.

Nitrogen oxide is another very toxic gas which targets a specific protein in our lungs, reducing the functionality of the airways, making you more short of breath. Interestingly, inhaling some of these chemicals can also have a dangerous effect on the heart muscle, blood vessels as well as memory, fertility and menstrual cycles.

Whilst you might be thinking, “well I’m not burning any of these things so I must be ok,” unfortunately the carbon footprint is something that we are all influencing on some level. We haven’t chosen the world to be in such a crisis but along the way, we have been complicit and now it’s time to all take some personal responsibility.

It’s hard to listen to the leaders and government authorities because they’ve long been aware and been warned of the risks and links between poor air quality and health; sadly nothing has really been done about it. I’m hopeful that the discussions from COP26 will lead to improving our air quality globally.

However, we must also all review our own contributions and change what we can... the smallest change will go a long way. From being more mindful of energy use around the house to opting to walk where you can, from recycling and reusing to eating more plant-based foods - the impact together can be huge. As selfish beings maybe now the threat to our own health will evoke some change. In any case, action is needed now.