Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Impact of Climate Change on Health Is ‘The Major Threat of 21st Century’

 A sign cautions people not to dive from a bridge over the Kern River, which has been dried up by water diversion projects and prolonged drought, in Bakersfield, California. (Photo Credit: Scott London) Click to Enlarge.
The health of millions of people across the world is already being significantly harmed by climate change, a major new report finds.

From driving up the number of people exposed to heatwaves to increasing the risk of infectious diseases, such as dengue fever, climate change has had far-reaching effects on many aspects of human health in last few decades, the authors say.

In fact, the effect of climate change on human health is now so severe that it should be considered “the major threat of the 21st century”, scientists said at a press briefing held in London.

The report is the first from the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, a project involving 24 academic institutions and intergovernmental organisations from across the world.  The project plans to release a report tracking progress on climate change and global health every year.

Feeling the heat
The report uses a set of 40 indicators to track the effects of climate change on global health.  The first of these indicators assesses the “direct impacts” of climate change on human health, including the effects of exposure to extreme heat and natural disasters.

One of the report’s findings is that, from 2000 to 2016, the rise in the average temperatures that humans were exposed to was around three times higher than the rise of average global temperatures worldwide.
The average temperatures that humans are exposed to are significantly higher than the global surface average because most people live on land, where warming happens most quickly, explains Prof Peter Cox, an author of the new report and a climate scientist at the University of Exeter.  He tells Carbon Brief:
“Generally speaking, when you look at where people are, the rate of change appears much larger than when we look at global averages.  So maybe when we think about global targets, we should be always bearing in mind that the global mean temperature doesn’t really mean much to most people.  We don’t live on the ocean, which is two-thirds of the global mean.  We live on the land, and on the land that tends to warm fastest.”
The report also finds the number of “vulnerable” people exposed to “heatwave” events increased by around 125 million between 2000 and 2016.  “Vulnerable” is here defined as being over the age of 65, while a “heatwave” is defined as three consecutive nights where temperatures are in the top 1% of the 1986-2006 average for the region.

In 2015, a record 175 million more people were exposed to heatwaves, when compared to the average for 1986-2008, the report finds.

Read more at Impact of Climate Change on Health Is ‘The Major Threat of 21st Century’

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