Climate Deaths by 2030 Could Exceed UN Agency’s Estimate of 250,000 Per Year
The World Health Organization may have been too “conservative” with its prediction that climate change will kill 250,000 people per year between 2030 and 2050, according to a new analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
“We think the impact is more difficult to quantify because there is also population displacement and a range of additional factors like food production and crop yields, and the increase in heat that will limit labour productivity from farmers in tropical regions that wasn’t taken into account, among other factors,” said co-author Sir Andrew Haines, former director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
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He added that freshwater depletion, mounting biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, overfishing, pollution, deforestation, and the spread of invasive species—all environmental problems in their own right that are related to climate change—compound the threat to public health. “It is an urgent task to understand how to safeguard health in the face of these dramatic trends, all of which are caused by human activities related to patterns of economic activity.”
The WHO’s analysis, published in 2014, looked at the future impact of climate change on the incidence of conditions like malaria, diarrhea, heat stress, and malnutrition, CNN reports. But Haines called those findings a “conservative estimate”, adding that climate change could “halt and reverse” a century of advances in human health.
“Due to climate change-related food shortages alone, the world could see a net increase of 529,000 adult deaths by 2050,” the U.S. broadcaster notes, citing the report. Climate change could also “force 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, and poverty makes people more vulnerable to health problems.”
Primary care physician Dr. Caren Solomon, a deputy editor of the NEJM, said physicians have a “special responsibility to safeguard health and alleviate suffering,” and that commitment must now extend to climate impacts. She noted the U.S. health sector accounts for 10% of the country’s emissions, enough to rank seventh on a global scale if it were its own country.
“There are substantial benefits and co-benefits of working to reduce these greenhouse gases,” Solomon added, citing bike-riding as a ticket to better health and reduced pollution. “We all know that prevention in medicine is enormously more effective and efficient, rather than waiting for full blown disease,” she told CNN. “We view climate change in the same manner, and know that if we take action immediately, we can avoid the catastrophic health effects that are projected.”
Haines agreed, adding that “future generations will, no doubt, look back at the missed opportunities for progress towards a healthy, sustainable economy and question why decisive action wasn’t taken sooner.”