A new report on health and climate change maps out the profound risks and impacts of climate change on human health, and the policy responses needed to ensure the highest possible standards of health for communities throughout the world. Both the World Health Organization and the multidisciplinary Lancet Commission compare fighting climate change to fighting smoking and saving lives, saying that climate change would be likely to cause about 250,000 additional deaths per year by 2030. Direct effects of changing climate include heat waves and other extreme weather events, such as storms, floods, forest fires, and droughts. Indirect impacts include air pollution, the spread of mosquitoe-borne diseases such as malaria, forced migration, poverty, and violent conflict. The authors of the report say that the potential risk to human health posed by climate change has been underestimated.
Most of us would agree that people trust their doctors more than their political leaders. Now that our top medical experts are sounding this emergency alarm, it will be difficult for world and local leaders to ignore the call to collectively address the climate challenge, which can also be seen as the “greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.” While inaction on climate could reverse the past 50 years of global public health gains, climate solutions tend to have multiple and significant short-term co-benefits, such as improved air quaility due to the phase-out of burning coal. The report outlines implementable strategies such as reducing reliance on fossil fuels and phasing out coal, putting a price on carbon, and making cities more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. The report also finds that the solutions result in a net benefit for GDP (gross domestic product), largely due to the betterment of public health and associated reductions in health care costs and a healthier workforce. Countdown to 2030: Climate Change and Health Action is a new global coalition which will continue to monitor and report every two years on the progress of public policies in mitigating the effects of climate change on our communities and the ecosystems we rely on for good health.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Some top international doctors and public health experts have issued an urgent prescription for a feverish planet Earth: Get off coal as soon as possible.
Substituting cleaner energy worldwide for coal will reduce air pollution and give Earth a better chance at avoiding dangerous climate change, recommended a global health commission organized by the prestigious British medical journal Lancet. The panel said hundreds of thousands of lives each year are at stake and global warming "threatens to undermine the last half century of gains in development and global health."
It's like a cigarette smoker with lung problems: Doctors can treat the disease, but the first thing that has to be done is to get the patient to stop smoking, or in this case get off coal in the next five years, commission officials said in interviews.
"The prescription for patient Earth is that we've got a limited amount of time to fix things," said commission co-chairman Dr. Anthony Costello, a pediatrician and director of the Global Health Institute at the University College of London. "We've got a real challenge particularly with carbon pollution."
He called it a "medical emergency" that could eventually dwarf the deadly toll of HIV in the 1980s. He and others said burning coal does more than warm the Earth, but causes even more deaths from other types of air pollution that hurt people's breathing and hearts.
Unlike its earlier report in 2009, which laid out the health problems of climate change, this report was more about what can be done to improve the planet's health. It calls for cutting air pollution, more walking and cycling and less driving, better urban design, putting a price on the cost of each ton of carbon being used, improved health care planning for extreme weather and every two year check-ups on how the world is doing to get healthier.
"Virtually everything that you want to do to tackle climate change has health benefits," Costello said. "We're going to cut heart attacks, strokes, diabetes."
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