The issue of climate change such as global warming has traditionally been classified as an environmental problem. However, recent findings published in The Lancet warn that “the human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible." Anthony Costello, co-chairman of the commission in charge of the Lancet Countdown, stressed that “climate change is happening; and it’s a health issue today for millions worldwide.” Judging from how diseases are proliferating due to natural disasters, air pollution, heat waves and so on – it is evident that climate change is no longer a distant threat to human health, but a current one.

Fighting against the forces of nature

Between 2000 and 2016, The Lancet reported a 46% hike in climate-related disasters. The consequences of climate change are caused by “rising temperatures and changes in the frequency and strength of storms, floods, droughts and heat waves – with physical and mental health consequences,” it adds.

Nick Watts, executive director of the Lancet Countdown, expresses that “the world has not responded to climate change, and that lack of response has put lives at risk... The impacts we’re experiencing today are already pretty bad. The things we’re talking about in the future are potentially catastrophic.”

Global warming, for instance, has been found to aggravate dengue outbreaks. Heat waves affect a record high of 175 million victims back in 2015. The elderly, very young children and those with chronic diseases are especially vulnerable to heat-related mortality. Moreover, deaths arising from storms, floods and other weather-related disasters have also increased in recent years. More than 500,000 lives have been lost to weather-related disasters in the past 25 years, since 1990.

Aside from climate change, environmental pollution has also been blamed for harming human health on a large scale. In a separate report by The Lancet commission on pollution and health – it was mentioned that air, water and soil pollution are “the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated nine million premature deaths.”

Healing the planet starts in your garage, in your kitchen – and at your dining-room table.
Healing the planet starts in your garage, in your kitchen – and at your dining-room table.

In search of a glimmer of hope

Although climate change paints a bleak picture of the future of humanity, not all hope is lost. Many countries are actively trying to cut down greenhouse gas emissions, which can have significant impact in reducing global warming. Economic powerhouses, such as China and the US, are gradually commencing the phase-out of coal-fired power stations – which are one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions that cause global warming. Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydropower and biomass are gaining popularity – with governments and organisations becoming more aware of their responsibilities towards the environment. The European Union, for instance, has pledged to obtain 20% of its energy needs from renewable sources by the year 2020.

At the end of the day, tackling climate change to prevent diseases is clearly important to improve public health in the long run. As Professor Howard Frumkin from the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington, puts it: “Preventing illnesses and injuries is more humane, more effective and more economical than treating people once they’ve become sick." MIMS

Read more:
Global pollution: The ironic man-made crisis that “threatens the continuing survival of human societies”
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