Health impacts of the Climate Catastrophe

Health impacts of the Climate Catastrophe

One cannot be sure, but the heatwave of 2018 in the UK may just have changed the nature of the debate about environmental politics here, not least because it has provoked a flurry of articles and broadcasts about the issue of how health may be impacted by the greater frequency of extreme weather events prompted by the changing climate. Partly, I think, it may be because people now have a common shared experience, which will find its way into the `stories` we tell each other.

The very hot summer of 2018 has been compared with the very hot summer of 1976 which the older ones amongst us experienced in living memory and that, in turn, was compared with the very hot summer of 1947, which I must have experienced, but from the inside of my pram!

This time however, there is much more awareness of the possible downsides of very hot summers and the heat-related deaths and illnesses they may cause or exacerbate, rather than just the opportunities for barbecues such weather might allow.

On 26th July the Guardian reported that the UK is “…`woefully unprepared` for deadly heatwaves, according to a cross-party committee of MPs, with the government ignoring warnings from its official climate change adviser.” Apparently one in five homes can overheat dangerously during heatwaves and on the hottest day of 2016 alone there were almost 400 heat-related deaths. The MPs` report went on to say that “…climate change has doubled the risk of heatwaves and events even worse than the heat currently baking the nation could occur every other year by the 2040s with a tripling of heat deaths to 7,000 a year as a result.”

So, instead of looking back from 2018 and remembering 1976, or looking back from 1976 and remembering 1947, people may be looking back from 2037 and remember the hot summer from 2035. So, why am I concerned about this now? Basically, because if I live that long – and I shall be 90 in 2037 – it is the vulnerable and elderly that probably suffer most and “hospitals and care homes, must be prepared for heatwaves” according to the committee. I agree!! And there is no current requirement that such buildings are built to protect inmates against excessive heat.

Now, you may argue that I seem to be showing a selfish streak here, but I am just trying to make a point! The fact is that Climate Change has already had an impact upon health in many areas around the world, including here in Brazil, where I am writing these words. One of the fastest growing deadly diseases is apparently Dengue fever and recently there has been a more widespread occurrence of Dengue fever in Brazil as climate change favours the types of mosquitos that carry this disease. Many of you will also remember that one of the health headlines from the run-up to the Rio Olympics in 2016 related to another mosquito-borne disease Zika.

Worldwide it is estimated that 550 thousand hospitalizations with 20 thousand deaths occur per year among a total of approximately 2.5 billion people exposed to Dengue, and Climate Change is a factor in the increasing occurrence of the disease. The same may be said about the Zika virus. (See here for more >>> http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S1415-790X2013000200240&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en)

As the Guardian reported last October, Christiana Figueres, who negotiated the Paris climate change agreement as the UN’s climate chief, co-chaired a report in Lancet of findings by researchers from 26 institutions around the world, including many universities, the World Health Organization, World Bank and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. Figueres said “Hundreds of millions of people are already suffering health impacts as a result of climate change. Tackling climate change directly, unequivocally, and immediately improves global health. It’s as simple as that.” (See the Guardian report from Oct 2017 here>>> https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/30/climate-change-already-damaging-health-of-millions-globally-report-finds)

The same report indicated that there has been a 46% increase in extreme weather events in the years since 2000 and such extreme weather events are themselves potentially harmful: floods, fires, hurricanes etc.etc. Earlier reporting relating to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement forecast more and more Climate migrants – people being displaced because of sea-level rises, or famines caused by water shortages – and called for a more sympathetic response to such migrants as victims rather than threats.

Earth Overshoot Day

Coming up to the end of July as I write this, it would also be timely to mention Earth Overshoot Day and the fact that the Global Footprint Network (https://www.footprintnetwork.org/) is forecasting that Earth Overshoot Day will occur two days earlier this year on August 1st. This is the day upon which it is expected that we shall have used up a whole year`s resources – the day that marks the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate. Of course, with an increasing world population and a reduced doubling period relating to the world population growth it becomes almost inevitable that Earth Overshoot Day will keep on getting earlier in the year.

The question that environmental politicians and political environmentalists need to keep asking is “How do we persuade other (unaware/ignorant) politicians and voters that things need to change? More to the point, how do we persuade them that WE ALL need to promote and activate change?”

This question brings me back to the start of this post – perhaps the very real effects of an extremely hot, dry summer may be the push that we need to get people to make the connection for themselves. After all, environmental politicians have been going on for ages about plastic waste – particularly plastic waste in the oceans – and then, “all it took” was one television programme and a David Attenborough voice-over and, all of a sudden, pretty well everybody is now into reducing plastics, particularly single use plastics, in our everyday lives!

About Keith Melton - Green Lib Dem

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Nottinghamshire; spent six years in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536. Active member of the Green Liberal Democrats - (pressure group in Liberal Democrats) - was Founding Chair of GLD in 1988
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