Health at the heart of climate action!

By Arvind M. Dhople, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Florida Tech

The climate crisis is a health threat that continues to grow as we battle the Covid-19 pandemic.  There is clear evidence that solution to the climate crisis can also directly benefit people’s health.  At the United Nations Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in October 28, 2021, the U.N.’s High Commission for Human Right said, “Only urgent, priority action can mitigate or avert disasters that will have huge – and in some cases lethal – impacts on all of us, especially our children and grandchildren.”  I am outlining some of the damaging effects of climate change on health, and why climate action cannot ignore the evidence.

                Climate change is affecting food quality:  Global heating is making floods, droughts and heatwaves worse.  These extreme weather events are changing the environment and affecting the quality of food we can produce.  Each year, over 1 million people die because they don’t get enough vegetables in their diet.  As temperatures continue to rise, environment issues will make it more difficult to produce enough nutritious vegetables to feed everyone sustainably.

                The evidence shows that over 500,000 more people could die by 2050 because climate change means we won’t have enough food available, especially fruits and vegetables.

                Climate change will make infectious diseases spread faster and further:  One of the major effects of global heating is the rise in extreme weather events such as flooding and droughts.  Rising temperatures also affect the patterns of rainfall and snow.

                By making rain and wet weather conditions more unpredictable, climate change will increase the occurrence of water-borne diseases like cholera.  Evidence suggests that weather changes will shift the spread of cholera, meaning we could see more outbreaks in new parts of the world.

                Wet weather and extreme drought will also increase the risk of other infectious diseases, like malaria and dengue.  This is because mosquitos that carry these infectious diseases will thrive in new conditions caused by climate change.  Evidence so far suggests that people in low-income countries are going to be disproportionately affected by these diseases.

                Hot weather affects our organs, making health issues worse:  Climate change has caused over a third of heat-related deaths since 1991.  In 2019, research found that people aged 65 and older experienced 160 million more days of heatwave exposure than in 2016.

                As the weather gets hotter, more people are likely to experience heat stress, heatstroke, and lung and heart diseases.  Heatwaves also increase the risk of premature birth and stillbirth – and people in low-income countries could be at greatest risk.  One possible solution for reducing the health risks linked to rising temperatures is running air conditioners.  But air conditioners already use almost 9% global electricity, with the benefits mostly felt in wealthier parts of society.  We must find more sustainable and equitable ways to protect people from the health effects of global heating.

                Gas emissions and wildfires are damaging air quality, and it’s bad for our lungs:  Air pollution has a devastating impact on our health, killing almost 9 million people every year.  Two thirds of these deaths are directly linked to fossil fuel emissions from traffic and industrial power generation.  We can save 3.5 million lives each year if we stop burning fossil fuels and reduce pollution outdoors.

                Research also shows that wildfires caused by heatwaves are adding to air pollution, with long-lasting and deadly effects.  Without action, wildfires will increase in more parts of the world, meaning more people will die from lung and heart diseases.          

                Climate change is damaging people’s health, and no part of the world is immune from its harmful and deadly effects.  Unless action is taken now, global temperatures are set to rise 1.5 degree by 2034.