Climate Change Poses Huge Threat to Human Health

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Climate change will have a huge impact on human health, and bold environmental policy decisions are needed now to protect the world’s population, according to the author of an article published last week in the British Medical Journal.


“Climate change is beginning to damage our natural life-support system,” says epidemiologist Tony McMichael, PhD, a professor of public health at the Australian National University. Health risks include:

  • The impact of heat waves, floods and wildfires
  • Changes in infectious-disease patterns
  • The effect of worsening food yields
  • Loss of livelihoods

The World Health Organization estimates one-fourth of the world’s disease burden is caused by contamination of air, water, soil and food. Climate change will cause disease rates to soar (particularly respiratory and diarrheal diseases), Dr. McMichael says. While global warming is unlikely to cause entirely new diseases, it will alter the incidence, range and seasonality of many existing health disorders. This means that by 2080, for example, between 20 million and 70 million more people could be living in malarial regions.

Adverse health effects will be much greater in low-income countries and vulnerable subpopulations.

“Poverty cannot be eliminated while environmental degradation exacerbates malnutrition, disease and injury,” Dr. McMichael says. “Food supplies need continuing soil fertility, climatic stability, freshwater supplies and ecological support, such as pollination. Infectious diseases cannot be stabilized in circumstances of climatic instability, refugee flows and impoverishment.”

The relationship between the environment and health is complex. For example, as India modernizes, experts expect its population’s health to improve, but industrialization also means a rapidly increased level of coal-burning and greater global emissions. This, in turn, leads to climate change, whose impact is felt most by vulnerable populations.

The global changes we’re now seeing are unprecedented in their scale, Dr. McMichael concludes, and our healthcare systems should develop strategies to deal with the resulting increase in disease and injury. More far-sighted policy decisions must be taken at the national and international levels to arrest the process. Health professionals “have both the opportunity and responsibility to contribute to resolving this momentous issue,” he says.

Editor’s Note: publishes science news so organic consumers have access to the latest information on climate change and threats to our environment. You can view similar posts by visiting the Environment Section of our blog.

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