Here is what truly terrifies me.
America is currently in thrall to the clown occupying the Oval Office. Every day there’s a new outrage, a new assault on democratic norms and the rule of law. If it isn’t the buffoon himself, it’s a member of what has to be the worst cabinet ever assembled. And we are all transfixed by the spectacle.
Studies confirm that the rate at which the climate is changing is accelerating. Ice is melting faster than anticipated, the oceans are warming more quickly and feeding ever-stronger hurricanes, island nations are disappearing into rising seas.
And human health is endangered. According to a new review article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Earth may experience a net increase of 529,000 adult deaths by 2050, due to food shortages caused by climate change.
While the report has several other “take aways,” including new evidence of global warming, here are a few bearing on human health:
There are a number of health risks that operate through both direct and indirect links to climate change, including malnourishment, diarrheal disease, malaria and heatstroke.
An example of a direct health effect of climate change is heat-related death.
Other health effects are linked to climate change less directly. For example, rising temperatures can lead to changes in the range and distribution of vector-borne diseases, like malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.
Climate change is also linked to health effects that vary by factors such as geography, race and socioeconomic status. For example, the relative socioeconomic status of a country will to some extent determine the ability to cope with or mitigate the effects of climate change. Hotter regions of the world tend to be poorer, and these economies will face additional challenges as global temperatures rise.
An estimate for climate change-associated adult deaths resulting from expected changes to the food supply predicts a net increase of 529,000 deaths worldwide by 2050, which vastly exceed previous estimates by the World Health Organization.
This is a conservative estimate, because it does not include deaths from other climate-sensitive health outcomes and does not include morbidity or the effects associated with the disruption of health services from extreme weather and climate events.
A World Bank estimate suggests that “climate change could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.”
The authors of the report note that there would be numerous health benefits if global carbon emissions could be reduced to zero. There would be less exposure to air pollution (which is estimated to account for 6.5 million premature deaths yearly). Shifting to a plant-based diet would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 to 30 percent and would dramatically improve health outcomes, and shifting more transportation to walking, biking and public transportation from personal motor vehicles would not only reduce emissions, but would also encourage health-promoting physical activity.
Seems like a win/win to me.
This report adds to the steadily mounting evidence of the enormous threat to global civilization posed by climate change. Worse, the evidence shows that the threat is considerably more imminent than previous estimates suggested.
Meanwhile, rather than a sense of urgency, rather than a national effort to do what we can to avoid the worst of the likely consequences, we’re all watching the soap opera/gong show that is our current national government.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump tweets while the globe heats.
And we really, really don’t have time for this.