In a groundbreaking study conducted by teams from prominent global universities, researchers have raised concerns about the potential impact of climate change-related extreme weather events on brain function.
The study suggests that events such as heatwaves, droughts, hurricanes, forest fires, and floods, fuelled by global warming, may lead to changes in brain structure, function, and overall health.
The study was conducted by teams of universities from Geneva, New York, Chicago, Washington, Stanford, Exeter in the UK, and the Max Planck Institute in Berlin.
Lead author Dr Kimberly C. Doell from the University of Vienna in Austria highlighted the urgent need for comprehensive research to understand how climate change might influence brain health.
“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,” Dr Doell told the press.
The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, highlights the complexity of both brain function and climate change and calls for a concerted effort to address their interplay.
It delves into the complex relationship between environmental factors and brain development, drawing parallels with earlier research on the effects of growing up in poverty.
Scientists have known since the 1940s, based on mouse studies, that changing environmental factors profoundly influence brain development and plasticity.
Dr Mathew White, affiliated with the Universities of Exeter and Vienna, stressed the need to view brain function and climate change as interconnected.
“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 White.
The findings underscore the necessity for further research to evaluate how climate change may impact mental well-being and behaviour, with potential implications for public health and policy decisions.