There’s no time to waste: the climate crisis threatens public health with more fatal heat waves, disease outbreaks, and massive food shortages. All these could result in premature deaths.
This is the general warning from experts attending the Climate & Health Meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta, which replaced the climate change conference previously set — and postponed in January — by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Heat Stress In Focus
Former vice-president Al Gore and other health and climate groups committed to hold the meeting to replace the long-planned CDC climate change summit, which was abruptly postponed ahead of Trump’s inauguration.
Trump has earlier expressed doubts about an actual climate crisis, although he finds “some connectivity” between climate change and human action. The office of the incoming president, however, has not been reported to explicitly request the move.
“The extreme weather events calculated by the insurance industry have obviously been increasing,” said Gore in a keynote speech during the meeting, as reported by CNN. He likened climate-related news on TV to “a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.”
A staggering 97 percent of climate scientists agreed that climate change is actually happening, with human activity largely responsible for it. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the phenomenon will cause around 250,000 extra deaths annually from 2030 to 2050, due to heat stress, spread of infectious disease, and malnutrition — numbers that some scientists even deemed an underestimate.
The projected data could be “a drop in the bucket” when it comes to actual future impacts, warned professor and meeting participant Dr. Jonathan Patz.
According to Gore, heat stress emerges as the factor behind most U.S. climate-related deaths, with mortality climbing at an average of 4 percent during heat waves. It outperformed tornadoes, floods, and lightning in weather-linked fatalities in the last three decades.
2016 was the hottest year on record since documentation began in the 1880s, the third year in a row to set a new record for average global temperatures. In 2003, nearly 17,000 in the United Kingdom and France, along with over 70,000 in Europe, died in a heat wave, while merciless back-to-back heat waves struck India and claimed at least 2,500 lives.
Flooding remains another urgent concern, surfacing as the reason behind most weather-related deaths in 2015.
Disease Spread And Hunger
Along with heat stress, humans can expect the spread of infectious conditions as a threat to health and life. High temperatures are key in the spread of those diseases.
The climate crisis could promote human infection through the pathogen, host, or newer conditions for transmission, warned a study last year, which reviewed climate change and health research published from 1990 to 2015. Warmer temperatures, for instance, could be conducive to mosquitoes and therefore diseases they carry, including the Zika virus that recently posed a global health emergency.
Crops also suffer from climate effects, with more extreme weather situations — from flooding to off-the-charts temperature records — preventing them from growing, reducing yields, and causing higher carbon dioxide levels to affect food.
Zinc, iron, and other essential nutrients could be significantly reduced in crops due to higher CO2, warned Gore.
Unlike the planned CDC summit, the recently held meeting is only a one-day affair and did not involve government circles. The federal agency said it might hold the event later this year.