Think Climate Change Isn’t Harming Human Health? Think Again!

Climate change’s impact on human health isn’t a far-off idea. It’s happening right now. More episodes of extreme heat and more frequent floods are increasing the risk of injury and disease, a new report by 29 leading experts concludes.

The report, called “The imperative of climate action to protect human health in Europe“, by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) supports what previous research has found: An our planet’s climate warms, extreme episodes of heat and rainfall are causing direct impacts on human populations by reducing crop yields, destroying infrastructure and more. This, in turn, is leaving people vulnerable to physical and mental ill-health.

The Council finds that “Climate change is already contributing to the burden of disease and premature mortality.” It adds that, “Without prompt and effective action, the problems are forecast to worsen considerably.”

They warn that there are multiple areas in which climate change is already hurting global communities and that it will only get worse if we don’t act.

Worsening Physical Health

Reviewing existing, high-quality studies, the researchers found that there were both direct and indirect harms from climate change and its contributing problems.

Research has shown that when heat waves occur, they occur for longer and may be more intense — leading to more deaths and more long-term health consequences. As temperatures continue to rise, heat-related morbidity (heat stroke) and heat-related deaths will climb.

The report also notes that lung disease related to air pollution is manifestly harming our health today and will lead to even more fatalities moving forward as rising temperatures compound that insulation effect and trap more and more health-harming chemicals in our atmosphere. The European Union alone has an estimated 350,000 early deaths from air pollution each year.

Bacterial infection will also be a problem as the climate changes, especially since we are rapidly exhausting our supply of viable antibiotics. This also means that it is likely that in the future problems like food poisoning will also increase. The report specifically notes that rising temperatures appears to make the risk of E.coli a greater threat.

As food supplies are interrupted as a result of extreme heat blighting crops, we can also expect more prolonged famine which, together with rising insect infestation, could lead to broader under-nourishment and starvation. Last year the UN warned that climate change is already driving global hunger and that this problem will only get worse unless we act now to secure the food supply.

Risk of Mosquito-Borne Disease

An additional concern, and one that scientific literature has talked about before, is that of mosquito-borne diseases, like malaria.

Mosquitoes already appear to be thriving in more places due to climate change. As the planet warms more, the areas where mosquitoes, other disease-causing insects and parasites thrive will change and grow. Mosquitoes will plague more and more highly-populated areas, increasing the risk of dengue fever, West Nile virus and other such health problems.

Mental Health Risk is Under-Recognized But Real

We are also already feeling the impact of climate change on our mental health, though we don’t talk about this issue as much as the more readily recognized risks to bodily health.

Natural disasters like wildfires and extreme weather are increasing pressure on communities that have to regularly deal with these problems. This is leading to greater incidence rates of anxiety, depression and PTSD. One prime example is the victims of California’s wildfires, who report living in constant states of anxiety every year as a result of the threat of devastating wildfires.

As the climate warms, extreme weather and disease risk, plus the risk of an insecure food supply, are just some of the factors that will further impact people’s mental health.

We Have the Power to Stop this Health Emergency

The report sends a very clear message: “Rapid and decisive action, to cut [greenhouse gas] emissions sufficiently to keep temperature increase below 2°C above pre-industrial level, could greatly reduce risks to health,” the authors write.

The authors also point to the readily-evidenced health benefits that we would see from moving away from fossil fuels, for example a reduction in air pollution that would abate rising temperatures, cut our risk of cardiovascular disease and more. Halting use of fossil fuels would also improve food security, because it could help prevent sea level rise and extreme weather, both of which currently endanger our food supplies and infrastructure.

Professor Sir Andrew Haines tells the Guardian why the Council believes looking at climate change through a personal and global health lens is important: “We think reframing climate change as a health issue can help to engage the public because most people are not just concerned about their own health, but about the health of their nearest and dearest and their descendants. We think this is a way of mobilising the public and raising concern in a constructive way and increasing the momentum for change.”

The Council calls on EU governments and wider governments and officials to act now to address climate change and also highlights the key role that scientists and scientific evidence must play in looking at strategies for preventing climate change and reducing the impact it is already having on us.

Related at Care2

Photo credit: Getty Images.

75 comments

Chad A
Chad Anderson6 days ago

Thank you.

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Barbara S
Barbara S14 days ago

Thanks.

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Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman15 days ago

Karin Hanson wrote of the necessity of educating Trump. We know that Prince Charles failed at it. I'm not sure that anyone can do it. Willful ignorance is next to impossible to change.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld15 days ago

Virgene L.,
I think only those believing the catastrophists prediction of impending doom have mental health issues. Similar to the unfounded fear people have of immigrants, Muslims, Christians, Russians, socialists, gays, etc., based on media coverage.

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hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN hEARFIELD15 days ago

tyfs

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie15 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie15 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie15 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Virgene L
Virgene L15 days ago

It is getting more scary isn't it? How could it not affect our mental health as well as our physical health. Thanks.

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Ruth S
Ruth S15 days ago

Thanks.

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