Health and climate change

I was surprised just now to see that I don’t think I have a general thread on climate change and human health.

I’d say there are at least two big relevant dimensions to it.

First, because fossil fuel use causes so many bad health impacts, phasing out fossil fuels brings major co-benefits in terms of avoiding disease.

Second — whereas people seem to find environmental problems generally abstract and of low salience — people seem to have a much more consistent willingness to prioritize health related items. Thus, emphasizing the health impacts of climate change may help to motivate those presently unmoved or hostile to climate action.

There are certainly other important links, including how climate change will alter the distribution of mosquito-borne and other diseases and of course the intersectional ways in which health connects with public policy, economic justice, race, and global equity.

I did for a while host a Canadian government report on human health and climate change, which the Harper government decided to make available to the public only through the mail on a CD.

Health was also an important part of the case we made for divestment at U of T (PDF page 50 / printed page 44-7).


3 thoughts on “Health and climate change”

  1. Public Perceptions of Climate Change as a Human Health Risk: Surveys of the United States, Canada and Malta

    We used data from nationally representative surveys conducted in the United States, Canada and Malta between 2008 and 2009 to answer three questions: Does the public believe that climate change poses human health risks, and if so, are they seen as current or future risks? Whose health does the public think will be harmed? In what specific ways does the public believe climate change will harm human health? When asked directly about the potential impacts of climate change on health and well-being, a majority of people in all three nations said that it poses significant risks; moreover, about one third of Americans, one half of Canadians, and two-thirds of Maltese said that people are already being harmed. About a third or more of people in the United States and Canada saw themselves (United States, 32%; Canada, 67%), their family (United States, 35%; Canada, 46%), and people in their community (United States, 39%; Canada, 76%) as being vulnerable to at least moderate harm from climate change. About one third of Maltese (31%) said they were most concerned about the risk to themselves and their families. Many Canadians said that the elderly (45%) and children (33%) are at heightened risk of harm, while Americans were more likely to see people in developing countries as being at risk than people in their own nation. When prompted, large numbers of Canadians and Maltese said that climate change can cause respiratory problems (78-91%), heat-related problems (75-84%), cancer (61-90%), and infectious diseases (49-62%). Canadians also named sunburn (79%) and injuries from extreme weather events (73%), and Maltese cited allergies (84%). However, climate change appears to lack salience as a health issue in all three countries: relatively few people answered open-ended questions in a manner that indicated clear top-of-mind associations between climate change and human health risks. We recommend mounting public health communication initiatives that increase the salience of the human health consequences associated with climate change.

  2. Climate change health costs to top $100B by mid-century: report

    Climate change is likely to add more than $100 billion a year to Canada’s health-care costs by mid-century, says a report by a federally funded research group.

    The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices says effects on health are likely to be heaviest among those who are already disadvantaged.

    “Heat waves, air pollution — we see that those disproportionately impact people with certain health status and people who don’t have the same resources as the average Canadian,” said co-author Ryan Ness.

    The report draws on some of the latest research to model how a less predictable climate with more extreme events could affect the health of Canadians. It looked at two cases: one in which little is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions and one in which global warming is kept under 2.5 degrees C.

  3. The Lancet tracked 44 health indicators that are directly linked to climate change for this year’s report. Three of those indicators — mental wellbeing, the influence of heat on safe physical activity, and pollution related to the consumption of goods and services — are new this year. The report found that the world’s senior citizens collectively experienced 3.1 billion more days of heatwave exposure in 2020 than average, particularly in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States. (The annual averages used in the report are based on data collected between 1986 and 2005.) Children under 1 year old experienced 626 million more heatwave days than average.

    The report notes that, in addition to physical risks, heat exposure poses diverse risks to mental health globally. But the way mental health conditions are diagnosed, tracked, and treated varies wildly from country to country, so the authors aim to figure out how to better quantify and document this indicator in future reports.

    One of the Countdown report’s starkest takeaways is that during any given month in 2020, 19 percent of the land surface of the entire planet was affected by extreme drought. Drought and heat combined are putting the world’s major staple crops — corn, wheat, soybeans, and rice — at risk, which means food insecurity will continue to rise in the absence of global leadership on climate change.

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