Many health organizations around the world are adding warnings to the urgency highlighted in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released on Monday with a plea to reduce toxic carbon pollutants.
The IPCC report Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaption was the most dire and comprehensive report released by the Nobel Peace Prize winning group to date, which used the word “risk” over 250 times after only using it 40 times in its previous report.
Global Climate & Health Alliance released a document on Friday calling climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” according to a report in EcoWatch.
Governments of the world need to take immediate action they say.
“We are already seeing serious threats to health from heatwaves and bushfires in Australia, which are increasing due to climate change; but we know the worst impacts on health are being borne by those in developing nations,” said Dr. Liz Hanna, President of Climate and Health Alliance (Australia) “We can respond to this threat, and action now will prevent further harm. We call on our health and medical colleagues around the world to join us in demanding strong action to reduce emissions to limit these risks to health.”
Global health organizations see climate change as inextricably connected to human health.
Here are several ways CHA sees as risk to people from extreme climate anomalies:
- In Australia, the number of “dangerously hot” days, when core body temperatures may increase by two degrees Celsius or more, threatening health, is projected to rise from the current four-six days per year, to as high as 33-45 days per year by 2070.
- Climate change shows a strong association with the spread of infectious diseases, including dengue fever, chikungunya and visceral leishmaniasis.
- It is forecasted to drive up food prices and to increase the number of undernourished children under five by 20-25 million globally, by 2050. This, in turn, is associated with a significant increase in stunting, anemia and child mortality.
- Water-related diseases (eg. diarrhea, cholera, schistosomiasis) will likely increase, due to flooding, increased run-off (reducing water quality) and water scarcity.
Ironically, Australia, once a national leader in efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions to mitigate climate change elected a science denier as prime minister last September.
Tony Abbott made headline-grabbing remarks at a conference in Switzerland in January a month prior to the G20 summit in Sydney, when he referred to climate change as “clutter” he didn't want on the agenda.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are taking the IPCC report very seriously.
Democrats in the US senate have already highlighted the connection between climate change and fearsome impacts on human health with everything from increased respiratory diseases to cancer and cardiovascular concerns.
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) co-authored a letter in February to Kerry urging him to study potential health risks when evaluating whether or not to approve the final construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline across the heartland of America.
"I do believe the public health impacts are something that average people can really relate to because they know cancer is the second leading cause of death in this country — heart disease is number one — and all of this filthy air contributes to both of those," said Boxer.
But the US Supreme Court decision on Wednesday added complications to reducing toxic pollution from burning fossil fuels on a global level. The ruling opened the door for more federal campaign spending by deep-pocketed oil and coal barons to elect biased individuals to represent fossil fuel interests in congress.
Critics believe it is unlikely science deniers in world leadership positions or rich US campaign donors will care about the health of mankind any more than they care about the cost in human lives, destroyed infrastructure, loss of biodiversity and entire ecosystems from catastrophic weather events.
Proponents of fighting climate change say it’s the classic conundrum that comes down to good vs. evil, moral vs. immoral, when doing what is right for the health and welfare of future generations and the planet.
Unethical corporations and rich unprincipled individuals will always stand for their own best interests, not what's right for humanity.