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A recent report published in the public health journal The Lancet has revealed the extent to which climate change impacts on global health: it predicted devastating health effects on those in both high and low GDP countries in the future, as well as pointing to a plethora of health emergencies that are already occurring across the world as a direct result of climate change.
The report, published as The Lancet’s 2018 “Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change,” was a joint research report between 150 various experts from 27 global universities and institutions, including the United Nations, World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO). The report comes on the heels of the United States White House climate assessment which also paints a stark picture of the future of the Earth and the global population under an increasingly threatening environment.
The report looks at a variety of climate change effects and how they impact different aspects of human health. Firstly, rising temperatures across the globe are resulting in more frequent heatwaves over the summer, causing heatstroke, dehydration, and even death and exacerbating conditions related to cardiovascular health. Rising temperatures also increase the risk of wildfires, which can again increase existing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and increase air pollution. Heatwaves also contribute to reduced productivity which becomes an issue as food production drops as a consequence. In 2017, 153 billion hours of work were lost globally due to extreme heat (64 billion more than 20 years ago) and in recent years, this has resulted in falling crop yields in 30 countries which had enjoyed decades of good agricultural productivity and food security.
Both droughts and floods have also affected food production, creating unbalanced diets, food scarcity, hunger, child malnutrition and death. Droughts also irritate respiratory diseases, while flooding can contaminate drinking water, destroy sewage and sanitation systems and carry water borne infectious diseases. Rates of dengue fever, cholera and perhaps even the Zika virus have all increased due to warmer temperatures and warmer waters.
Pollution and decreasing air quality also affect respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Air quality has been declining steadily since the industrial revolution picked up speed and in 2016, about 6.1 million people were reported to have died as a result of respiratory or cardiovascular diseases that can be linked to air pollution, according to the Health Effects Institute.
These health issues outlined in the report, and the further issues that stem from climate change, highlight the importance of curbing the effects of climate change as much as possible and securing the future of the Earth, not only for future generations but for the current population too. These health issues have the potential to collectively overwhelm poor healthcare systems. When leaders of over 500 cities were surveyed, it was found that at least half felt that their cities’ healthcare systems and related infrastructure would be “seriously compromised by climate change.”
The seriousness of climate change and its impact on all facets of human life, the environment and animal life and the Earth itself, only increases every year, with people continuing to fail to protect their planet from harm, slowly destroying it. The Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that there is an immediacy to this issue that grows every day, and collectively, people can no longer “delay action on climate change [or] sleepwalk through this health emergency any longer.”
While there is some progress being made through agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement, many cities, businesses and organizations work tirelessly to limit greenhouse gas emissions, promoting better care for the environment. Yet, this progress is not moving fast enough for the rate at which the Earth’s temperature is rising. Not enough is being done to help health services face climate change-related health concerns, particularly in low-income countries that “are funding too little to meet their needs.” Unless people work harder to prepare their health systems and infrastructure, realizing the threat climate change poses on them today, people will continue to suffer preventable health issues.