An electron-microscope view of pollen from common plants. William Crochot/Dartmouth

The number of Europeans suffering from ragweed allergies could double by 2050.

Want to know what pollen season could be like in a hotter world? Imagine standing under this tree and trying to breathe:

If the rate of warming continues, the number of people suffering from ragweed allergies could jump from 33 to 77 million by 2050. That’s just for Europe: The worldwide toll would obviously be even bigger. Two-thirds of the spread of sinus-obliterating allergies is predicted to be directly tied to climate change.

That’s according to researchers at the University of East Anglia and elsewhere, who’ve published what they say is the first study quantifying global warming’s effects on pollen allergies. Using computer models, they simulated how ragweed is likely to find more and more habitable places to grow across Europe as temperatures rise. The noxious plant will also be able to pump more pollen into the air, thanks to an expected lengthening of the warm season and delayed frosts.

The number of ragweed pollen grains in a cubic meter of air, now (left) and predicted in future decades (right). (Lake et al., Environmental Health Perspectives)

Pollen misery will be highest in nations already lousy with ragweed, like Hungary and the Balkans, the researchers believe. “But the greatest proportional increases will happen in countries including Germany, Poland and France,” they say in a press release. Here’s more:

[Researcher Iain] Lake said: “Our research shows that ragweed pollen allergy will become a common health problem across Europe, expanding into areas where it is currently uncommon.

“The annual economic burden of allergic disease in the EU is already estimated at between €55 billion and €151 billion so increases on this level will bring a hefty price tag.

“Management of this invasive plant could reduce the amount of people affected to about 52 million, while a scenario which sees very rapid plant invasion would increase the amount of people affected to around 107 million. The control of ragweed is important for public health and as an adaptation strategy against the impacts of climate change.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    The Problem With 'Fast-Casual Architecture'

    Washington, D.C., has a huge new waterfront development that’s fun, popular, and easy on the eyes. Is anything wrong with that?

  2. Transportation

    If You Drive Less Than 10,000 Miles a Year, You Probably Shouldn't Own a Car

    Up to one-quarter of all U.S. drivers might be better off using ride-sharing services instead.

  3. Transportation

    How Seattle Bucked a National Trend and Got More People to Ride the Bus

    Three experts in three very different positions weigh in on their city’s ridership success.

  4. Equity

    Big Tech Ought to Step Up for Cities

    Leading high-tech firms have increasingly gone from heroes to villains in the eyes of their neighbors. It’s in their own interest to help make cities more affordable and inclusive.

  5. Design

    Experimental City: The Sci-Fi Utopia That Never Was

    With solar energy, recycling, computers, and personal mass transit, the 1960s-era Minnesota Experimental City was a prescient and hopeful vision of the urban future. A new documentary tells its story.