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Climate change: The global crisis of climate is also a crisis for health
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Climate change: The global crisis of climate is also a crisis for health

The person on the left has their face in their elbow, the person on the right is wearing a face mask with a hand on their forehead. Behind them both is smoke and fog.


The climate crisis is placing serious threats onto the long term global health of the world’s population (Picture: Getty/

Climate change is one our greatest global challenges. 

UN scientists have said that it is ‘now or never’ to limit warming to under 1.5C above pre-industrial average levels. And while climate change has detrimental impacts on the planet and environment, the climate crisis also places severe threats on the long-term global health of the world’s population.

According to the Harvard Global Health Institute: ‘The health effects of climate change are immense. But despite strong evidence that climate change will profoundly affect human health, the mechanisms have received little attention and are poorly understood.’

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), air pollution is responsible for 13 deaths per minute in the world.

According to estimates by the The Guardian, more than 100,000,000 people could be forced into poverty if there is no effective climate action. World Bank

‘Climate change matters to every aspect of our health and wellness,’ Aaron (Ari) Bernstein, paediatrician and Assistant Faculty Lead to the Harvard Global Health Institute’s Climate and Health Initiative, tells

‘Climate shocks such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and fires, made more severe due to greenhouse gas emissions, can harm our hearts and minds, bring on infections and harm pregnancies.’

Ari says that the effects will affect the young, old, and the least fortunate the most.

Climate and weather changes can threaten food security and increase the risk of food, water, and vector-borne diseases. Climate impacts also negatively impact mental health and cause mental illness. ecoanxiety.

Pam Barbato is the CEO of Action Net Zero, explains that the climate crisis will impact how ‘we are able to grow food, source water and provide shelter’.

‘Greenhouse gases, including toxic particulate matter, directly affect air and water quality and compromise our food systems,’ Pam says. ‘Mercury levels have risen in fish by more than 30% in the last 20 years, due to mercury being emitted from coal-fired power plants.’

Ecoanxiety is ruining our mental health (Picture courtesy of Getty Images

Ari believes that to protect the health gains made during the 20th century Ari recommends that we rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by moving away from fossil fuels and switching to low carbon energy sources like solar and wind.

‘Tremendous progress has been made in regards to undernutrition,’ he explains. ‘With more heat, floods, fires, droughts and the potential spread of crop pests and pathogens, crop yields may decline, especially in places where yields are currently lowest. This can make food more scarce and expensive.’

Part of the team is Dominic Kniveton (Professor of Climate Change and Society, University of Sussex). Lancet CountdownThis group includes both medical and non-medical personnel from 35 of the most prestigious academic centres and UN agencies worldwide, who are working together to ensure that governments understand and respond to climate change.

Dominic acknowledges that ‘more subtle changes in climate can affect the jobs we do and influence our mental health’.

‘I would like to see the threat of climate change as an opportunity to redefine our relationship with health service provision from one based on the efficiency of resources to one based on the most effective use of resources to provide good wellbeing for the whole population,’ he says.

‘This is driven by the observation that our individual health is highly related to the health of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us.’

But it’s not just a one-way issue. The climate can also be affected by the healthcare system.

‘Worldwide healthcare is responsible for just over 4% of emissions on average,’ Ari explains. ‘Loss of staff and higher costs during Covid-19 have put healthcare on the ropes.

‘As healthcare recovers, we can hope that the current push to decarbonise healthcare coming from HHS, the National Academy of Medicine will result in healthcare doing its part to decarbonise.’

What can we do?

‘Governments need to act fast to drive change through policy and regulator change,’ Pam explains. ‘And they need to create guidance, blueprints and investment options for cities and regions to accelerate change.’

According to Ari, Governments need to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions that will ‘result in our attainment of the goals outlined in the Paris agreement to ensure global temperature rise is well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century.

‘The best way to achieve our climate goals is to put a price on carbon and the harms associated with fossil fuel use,’ Ari says. ‘This will favour technologies that neither pollute nor cause immediate harm.

‘Air pollution from burning fossil fuels kills 300,000 Americans each year. These deaths are more common in low-income communities and communities of color. 

‘When we get off fossil fuels, we can provide for a healthier, more just, and sustainable world.’

‘The links between the health and climate crisis are clear,’ says Pam. ‘And the solutions are inextricably linked, now is the time to embrace change and support the planet and our health systems to regenerate.’

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