The Lancet’s Diagnosis: Climate Change Is Bad For Your Health

By Ashira Morris, ODP Contributing Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change represent converging crises, according to The Lancet, one of the oldest and most prestigious medical journals in the world.  This year’s edition of The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change drives home the point that it is impacting everyone: “No country – whether rich or poor – is immune from the health impacts of climate change.” Its latest report, a cumulative effort of 120 researchers, found that heat-related deaths have increased over 50% in the last two decades. Projecting into the future, if average sea level rise hits one meter, 145 million people are at risk for where they live being inundated by water. The latest IPCC report projected a rise of .3-1.1 m by the end of the century.

Why This Matters: Rising seas and rising temperatures are public health issues. More extreme heat worldwide means that people with pre-existing conditions, people who work outdoors, and the elderly all face a higher risk of heat-related death. Taking steps to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change today are necessary to save peoples’ lives. Having an annual report on climate change in a medical journal underscores that connection. This year, the report emphasizes the importance of aligning the COVID-19 recovery with efforts to tackle climate change to take on both health challenges simultaneously. As the report emphasizes, “wildfires and tropical storms in 2020 have tragically shown us that we don’t have the luxury of tackling one crisis alone.”  

More stark stats from the 2020 Health and Climate Change Report

  • Extreme drought-impacted twice as much land in 2019 (compared to a 1950-2005 baseline)
  • From 2015-2019, more people were exposed to bushfires in 128 countries (compared to a 2001-2004 baseline)
  • Over the past 20 years, crop yield potential for staple foods like rice, soybeans, and maize all are on a downward trend.

All of these trends are only expected to get worse on current trajectories, and they’re all intertwined. Drought can increase the risk of bushfires and decrease crop health. In turn, bushfires can cause respiratory health issues, and losing a consistent food supply puts people at risk of malnutrition. 

Bright spots

  • Pollution from coal plants is killing fewer people: coal-polluted air led to 440,000 deaths in 2015, which decreased to 400,000 in 2018. 
  • More than three-quarters of cities worldwide now have or are working on climate change risk assessments to better understand and plan for adaptation at the local level. 
  • Media coverage of the connection between health and climate change has increased since 2007. 

To Go Deeper: Read the full report here.

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