Lancet Report is a Reminder: Climate Change Threatens Public Health

Lancet Countdown Report is a Reminder: Climate Change Threatens Public Health

One of the world’s most important medical journals, The Lancet, just published its 2022 report, Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change. This updated report illustrates the extent to which extreme heat is jeopardizing the physical, mental, and economic health of people around the world. As temperatures increase worldwide, so do adverse health impacts including heart disease, lung disease, heat stroke, infectious diseases, sleep deficiencies, and pregnancy complications. Heatwaves also correspond to adverse mental health consequences -- the report highlights increased instances of suicidality, noting that 84% of young people aged 16-25 are "moderately to extremely anxious" about climate change.

Globally, extreme heat also cost 470 billion potential work hours in 2021 alone, threatening livelihoods and disrupting social systems such as healthcare and education. For Americans, this equates to $68 billion (0.3% of the U.S. GDP) lost in potential income.

The Lancet: The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: 2022 report, October 26, 2022.

PBS: Record heat wave in the US raises public health concerns, June 17, 2022.

BBC: Past seven years hottest on record, EU satellite data shows, January 10, 2022.

CNBC: Why Air Quality In The US Is So Bad, April 22, 2021.

WW0: Climate and Health Are Connected, January 26, 2021.

Why This Matters

The impact of climate change on public health is felt by all -- but structural inequities mean it is not felt equally. "When we think of climate change and we think of the populations that bear the highest burden -- those being older adults and children, communities of color, impoverished or low-wealth communities, and Indigenous communities here in the US -- these groups are those that contribute least to this crisis, but they bear the heaviest burden,” report author Natasha Dejarnett stated in a press briefing.

NBC: A New Study Finds Pollution Caused Nearly Nine Million Deaths Worldwide in 2019, May 18, 2022.

DW: Air pollution and what can be done to reduce it, June 6, 2022.

Euronews: Air pollution has a more devastating effect on life expectancy than smoking and war, September 7, 2021.

Heat is the top weather related killer in the US, and many cities are unprepared to cope -- by August of this year, the number of heat related deaths had already exceeded the 30-year average. The number of heat related deaths jumped 68% from 2000-2004 to 2017-2021 for those older than 65. A just published UNICEF report estimates that nearly all of the world’s 2.2 billion children will experience extreme heat by 2050.

Already, 96% of the world’s total population felt higher-than-average temperatures during the past year, but it is countries that have contributed the least to planetary warming that are often feeling the greatest impact. The consequences of air pollution disproportionately affects the fast-growing cities of Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance -- the rate of deaths from toxic air is 155 for every 100,000 people in the region, which is nearly twice the global average.

DW: This is just how unfair climate change is, May 21, 2021.

Grantham Imperial: Dr Friederike Otto speaks to BBC World News about the heatwaves, 18 July 2022, July 19, 2022.

CBS: More than 120 million Americans face extreme heat, July 22, 2022.

BBC: Deadly heatwaves '100 times more likely’ due to climate change, May 18, 2022.

The Doctor’s Orders? Cut Emissions.

The issue cannot be solved through improved healthcare alone, the report states -- instead, the only way to halt the accelerating health crisis is through a rapid equitable transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy sources, in all areas of business. "The burning of fossil fuels is creating a health crisis that I can’t fix by the time I see patients in my emergency department,” report author Dr. Renee Salas, told NBC. "Fossil fuel companies are making record profits while my patients suffer from their downstream health harms.”

AMA: Dr. Renee Salas on intersection of health and the climate crisis | Moving Medicine, January 20, 2022.

Grantham Imperial: Dr Friederike Otto speaks to CNN's Connect the World about the extreme heat, 18 July 2022, July 19, 2022.

Guardian: Energy companies' record profits during global crisis 'immoral', says UN secretary general, August 3, 2022.

World War Zero: A Conversation on Health and Climate, August 6, 2020.

In the US, fracking is one major contributor. So is plastic production -- the process is extremely emissions-intensive, while the final product provides a vehicle for infectious diseases. Pollution is often localized, and directly impacts nearby communities -- one recent study found that those who live within three miles of a plant tend to earn 28% less than the average US household.

TED: End fossil fuels to protect human health | Carolyn Orr, March 1, 2022.

IEA: A 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use, March 18, 2022.

TED: Fossil fuel companies know how to stop global warming. Why don’t they? | Myles Allen, December 4, 2020.

The Lancet: Pollution | A global public health crisis, October 19, 2017.