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From heat stress to malnutrition, climate change is already making us sick

October 30, 2017 11:30 PM
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‘When a doctor tells us we need to take better care of our health we pay attention, and it's important that governments do the same.’

Climate change is already having an impact on our health, by exposing people to dangerous heat waves and more extreme weather, according to a new study. And if countries and cities worldwide don’t address global warming urgently by reducing carbon emissions, switching to renewables and electric cars, for instance, things are only going to get worse.

The report, called The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, is meant to track progress on health and climate change worldwide. It’s the first analysis borne out of a collaboration between 24 academic institutions and international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

"Climate change is happening, and it's a health issue today for millions worldwide,” said Anthony Costello, co-chair of The Lancet Countdown and a director at the WHO, in a statement. “The outlook is challenging, but we still have an opportunity to turn a looming medical emergency into the most significant advance for public health this century.”

Our world is heating up: The planet has already warmed by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, and if we don’t heavily reduce emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses like CO2, experts fear that average global temperatures could increase by 9 degrees Fahrenheit or more by the end of the century. That would be catastrophic: Most scientists see a temperature increase of just 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit as the threshold beyond which climate change is irreversible and apocalyptic. A warmer world doesn’t only mean warmer temperatures. It means changes in rain, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather like strong, destructive hurricanes.

To better prepare for the health impacts of climate change, countries and cities should do risk assessments and have a plan of action. For example, making sure that hospitals and nursing homes are equipped to withstand extreme weather, flooding, and loss of power should be a priority. But health-adaptation funding accounts for only about 5 percent of total global-adaptation spending, the report says. Countries should also switch to more renewable forms of energy, as well as boost electric vehicles. The stakes are incredibly high.

“We must do better,” said Christiana Figueres, chair of The Lancet Countdown's High-Level Advisory Board, in a statement. “When a doctor tells us we need to take better care of our health we pay attention, and it's important that governments do the same.”


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