Yesterday, Lancet released its annual report on how climate change is affecting human health around the globe. And it paints a bleak picture of the present. The prognosis for the future ain't that rosy either.
Two years ago, the Lancet report said climate change will undo 50 years of gains in public health. This year's report says climate change has started affecting health already.
Vulnerable populations - adults over 65 and children younger than 1 - witnessed 3.7 billion more heatwave days in 2021 than they did in any year between 1986 and 2005. Heat-related deaths spiked 68% over the last 20 years. This year, multiple temperature records were broken around the world.
Food security, too, has become a casualty of climate change, with climbing mercury levels and extreme weather events shortening the growing season by up to 10 days. As a result, 98 million more people around the world are reporting moderate to severe food insecurity.
Climate change is also causing infectious diseases to become more virulent and bringing more viruses and other microbes into the open. Outbreaks of dengue, malaria and cholera around the world are directly attributable to climate change. In the US, the aftermath of the recent Hurricane Ian saw the flesh-eating bacteria Vibrio vulnificus thrive. Scientists are warning of long-frozen viruses emerging from melting glaciers.
Hope is still an option, though. A slim option but there. However, the report only holds out a little hope for that hope to become actuality. The report, Health at the Mercy of Fossil Fuels, says we need to dramatically reduce our global reliance on fossil fuels to mitigate some of the harms of climate change. But instead, "governments and companies in both high- and low-income countries continue to prioritise fossil fuel interests." Governments are subsiding fossil fuel projects and oil and gas companies are posting record profits. Earlier today, Shell declared its Q3 results, with earnings more than doubling over the same period last year.
The authors say this persistent addiction to fossil fuels is putting global health at risk. Unless reversed and quickly, climate change will eat the world. Food will be scarce. Water will be in short supply. Disease will run rampant. There is a narrow window of opportunity left. But governments and companies need to walk the talk urgently now.