Major Health Study Shows Benefits of Combating Climate Change

By David Suzuki, a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org. Originally published at desmogblog.

During the holiday season, people often drink toasts to health. There’s something more we can do to ensure that we and others will enjoy good health now and into the future: combat climate change.

Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, and tackling it could be our greatest health opportunity,” according to the medical journal The Lancet.

The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, by 150 experts from 27 academic institutions and intergovernmental organizations, including the World Health Organization and the World Bank, is blunt: “A rapidly changing climate has dire implications for every aspect of human life, exposing vulnerable populations to extremes of weather, altering patterns of infectious disease, and compromising food security, safe drinking water and clean air.”

The report examines the association between health and climate change, including resilience and adaptation, financial and economic implications, the health and economic benefits of addressing the crisis, and the need for political and societal engagement, with a greater role for health professionals.

Sadly, the researchers conclude that a lack of concerted effort from governments is compromising human health and health infrastructure and services. They note some progress has been made, including a global decline in coal use, rapid growth in renewable energy installation and increasing fossil fuel divestment.

But it’s far short of what’s needed to keep global average temperature from rising more than 2 C, let alone the more ambitious target of 1.5 C.

People in more than 90 percent of cities breathe air that is toxic to cardiovascular and respiratory health, and it appears to be getting worse, “particularly in low-income and middle-income countries.” Pollutants from burning coal and other fossil fuels are causing millions of premature deaths every year.

A World Health Organization report, released at this year’s COP24 climate summit in Katowice, Poland, echoes the Lancet findings, noting that at least seven million people a year die prematurely because of pollution, and millions more become ill. It concludes that health gains from meeting Paris Agreement commitments would more than make up for the financial costs of global efforts to achieve those goals, “and would exceed that in countries such as China and India by several times.”

Children are forced to wear masks due to the toxic smoke from peat land fires in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR CC BY NC ND 2.0

The Lancet report shows the costs of inaction are rising: “About 712 climate-related extreme events were responsible for $326 billion of losses in 2017, almost triple the losses of 2016,” with 99 percent of losses in low-income countries uninsured. Deadly heatwaves, prolonged drought, increased flooding, agricultural losses, spreading transmission of infectious diseases from insects and contaminated water, mental health issues and water shortages are among the costly health impacts of climate change.

The Canadian Medical Association and Canadian Public Health Association offered several recommendations for policy-makers based on the Lancet report, emphasizing the role of doctors and other health professionals in addressing climate change and raising public awareness.

Ensuring a widespread understanding of climate change as a central public health issue will be vital in delivering an accelerated response, with the health profession beginning to rise to this challenge,” they write.

Beyond informing the public, recommendations include preparing people for worsening impacts; integrating climate change and health into medical and health sciences faculties curricula; supporting an equitable transition for people who work in the fossil fuel industry; phasing out coal power by 2030 and replacing it with non-emitting sources; applying carbon-pricing instruments quickly and scaling them up; and funding research into the mental health impacts of climate change.

The groups also caution against promoting natural gas as a solution because “increasing numbers of studies show risks to public health, water and air from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.”

When people get sick from contaminated lettuce or are injured because of defective products, governments and corporations promptly remove or recall the dangerous items. Granted, global warming is a much bigger challenge, but given the benefits of acting quickly and decisively to bring it under control, there’s no excuse for stalling.

As the Lancet report states, “At a time when national health budgets and health services face a growing epidemic of lifestyle diseases, continued delay in unlocking the potential health co-benefits of climate change mitigation is short-sighted and damaging for human health.”

Here’s to climate action for all our health.

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23 comments

  1. JULIA WILLE

    Well, how am I supposed to combat climate change…
    (Is this a war against climate change I am supposed to fight?)

    But seriously, the rather numbing and depressing issue is for me and probably many others, that it seems to be impossible to do anything. The believe in climate change does not change anything, nor does it produce any action. And what would be the right action for somebody in the western world, not the US though – I miss recommendations based and stats and science what best to do besides nodding my head in agreement and voting for official believers.

    Reply
    1. pretzelattack

      official believers like obama and clinton haven’t done much, i think it’s going to take something like the threat of mass public demonstrations coupled with official believers that actually want to solve the problem instead of making nice public speeches about it.

      Reply
      1. John Wright

        From my limited reading there is only ONE country that is not net adding to the CO2 level, that is tiny Bhutan, population around 800K.

        With the world’s population of 7.7 billion, this suggests only about 0.0091% of the world’s population is managing to NOT add to the CO2 level.

        The last President I remember even talking conservation and doing with less was Jimmy Carter.

        He was ridiculed for this.

        There is little political will to take on climate change in the USA as serious attempts would change lifestyles as about 80% of USA energy comes from hydrocarbons.

        Those directly affected by climate change in the USA will expect some sort of Federal government compensation, as we may witness in Florida with rising sea levels.

        Reply
    2. knowbuddhau

      Ikr? It’s a war on the collateral damage from our war on nature. Anything but self-examination and living by our total means, not just accounting sophistry.

      Pogo was right. More to the point: it’s our way of being us.

      “I feel it is important to explore other ways of thinking about the body, the world and social relationships. This might appear naive, but we need research that proves that there are and have been very different ways of understanding the world. Such knowledge can give us greater understanding of each other,” [archaeologist Vibeke Maria Viestad] says. https://phys.org/news/2018-12-archaeologist-debunks-myth-naked-bushmen.html

      Many of those ways far outlasted ours. Some still might.

      Even microbes and ants can cooperate. To say that being belligerently competitive is what we must do, is BS.

      Reply
    3. Adam Eran

      Q:How are you personally supposed to combat a systemic problem like climate change?

      A: Besides advocating climate remedies from government, you can stop eating meat and milk. According to a (flawed) U.N. study, livestock is responsible for more global warming than human transportation. This is because the methane livestock emits is 23 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

      The health benefits are many, and the cost is low.

      It may seem daunting. The solution is simple to say, and as someone who has done this for several decades now, actually simpler than you think to do.

      Remember: With good salsa, you can eat tree bark!…;-)

      Reply
  2. The Rev Kev

    It sounds cruel but I am going to call the millions of unnecessary deaths talked about in this article as ‘collateral damage’ for our presently organized industrial civilization. I say presently organized as I did not want to give anybody the idea that this was the only way that it could have been done. It was just the one that we chose over the past century or more.
    The real deaths will start stacking up after our industrial civilization starts to come apart due to rapidly depleting essential resources and the contradictions of inefficient organization. People have been having the vapors about thousands of refugees in places like Australia, America, Europe but just wait until you have waves of refugees numbered in the millions.

    Reply
    1. Wukchumni

      I could see climate change refugees besieging us here in my lifetime, not from afar, but from our cities.

      Once they figure out where the water runs perennially naturally, it’ll be like flies to the light. All of the land that has river frontage all the way to the NP border is privately held, so it could get messy, in a Sutter’s Fort fashion, where all of the sudden the world showed up for the Gold Rush, which was the ruin of him.

      I think i’ll just hurry up and wait and see what happens.

      Reply
      1. Wukchumni

        A glimpse into the summer river culture here…

        Surfing Slicky seems like a perfectly good way for a middle aged guy that’s never done it, to break my neck, so way jose. Although on the other hand, I really enjoy watching the younger daredevils going through their paces, looks like water ballet.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkhfDOtiLL4
        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        Three Rivers, Calif. — IN the 106-degree heat of August, Deva DeLisio plants his feet down on the crest of a slab of granite partially submerged in the main fork of the Kaweah River. Water rushing over the rock looks like a wide, short waterfall tilted at a 45-degree angle. The 16-year-old stands, his long, shaggy brown hair crowning his skinny, deeply tanned frame. The pounding of water into the pool beneath creates an intense, almost visceral, sound.

        Standing on dry rock about 20 feet away, Deva’s eyes focus on the giant rock locals have named Slicky. He takes off full throttle toward the cascade. Once his feet hit the ankle-deep water, he takes short steps that maintain his momentum and allow him to keep his balance. Water flies all around him, and, after about 10 feet, he begins to slide.

        He speeds up as water pulls him down a channel in the rock, bends his legs and absorbs bumps like a mogul skier. A spray of water precedes him as he sticks the landing 20 feet below where he started — still upright and mostly dry. This is “surfing” Slicky.

        http://articles.latimes.com/2005/aug/23/news/os-riversurf23

        Reply
    2. coboarts

      “…just the one that we chose…”
      c’mon rev, not we – the same grandees that are driving the climate change insanity and flying into huge Action Summits in San Francisco and elsewhere. Get ’em riled up, make ’em stupid and take ’em for the ride.

      Reply
  3. McGardner

    I mean, make of it what you will, but Lancet is called out as Marxist in this link, https://www.acsh.org/news/2017/11/06/lancet-praises-karl-marx-bizarre-editorial-12091

    It’s the same dichotomy as every other issue – are you Globalist or are you Nationalist. Gotta pick one – there is no center

    Global solutions = single global power structure. Aka the tyrannical hierarchy- aka the dreaded patriarchy.

    Ushering in that which you wish to destroy… messaging that is confusing, pessimistic and nihilistic. Not very American(tm). Tough sell at the polls.

    There’s an incoherence of policies that keep the liberal left’s status quo in stasis. And as such, no political will to fix anything; hence the dismay amongst commentariat.

    Reply
    1. Wukchumni

      I’m curious McGardner…

      What did you make of that space’ist report from an obviously biased satellite that showed how much arctic ice had been lost?

      Reply
      1. McGardner

        The evidence is there, and I agree that the ice sheet is changing. Although November 18 was a bumper crop; 1.14 million square kilometers above Nov 16 (granted, that was lowest on record) – regardless, weather is changing. The crux is what we do about it. Nothing or full boondoggle- those are the options. Because unless humans have the power to conquer nature and it’s climatic wonder, then we’d be better off allocating all those resources elsewhere. If it’s full boondoggle, then the enforcement is global, and human nature is such that our own instincts to compete and win at the tribal/nation-state level preclude us from achieving that utopian goal of climate-controlled world harmony. I wish it were different too.
        I mean, look at the solutions they’re coming up with…. the arrogance is breathtaking and dangerous…
        https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/20/build-walls-on-seafloor-to-stop-glaciers-melting-scientists-say

        Reply
        1. Wukchumni

          Where would you put those assets to combat climate change and it’s effects instead, if we put you in change of things?

          Reply
          1. McGardner

            Emergency Food storage, as in strategic federal reserves.

            I happen to be of the global cooling mindset fyi. If we’re going to talk armageddon prepping, I think you expect crop failures and expensive commodities come 2020>

            Reply
  4. emorej a hong kong

    Plans for Climate Survival:

    Plan A: Don’t start from here.

    Plan B: Hear refusal by market “losers” to accept higher-priced necessities (see: yellow vests, etc.)

    Plan C: End illusion of invincibility among biggest market “winners” — but not by turning their possessions into green house gasses

    Reply
  5. knowbuddhau

    Thanks, always like to hear what David Suzuki has to say.

    Still remember a lecture in Seattle that blew my mind. As we breathe, we recirculate argon. It doesn’t stick, just goes in and out. So, he said, some other scientist once calculated the chance that you, right now, are breathing argon atoms (just a few) once breathed by Jesus.

    Or , I realized, a few more from Hitler. Or anyone else, ever. There’s no real line between us, you see.

    Maybe if we related to the environment as our external organs, as our own bodily source, we might be more inclined to act in its interests.

    Reply

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