Climate change poses a huge threat to human health

January 25, 2008

Climate change will have a huge impact on human health and bold environmental policy decisions are needed now to protect the world’s population, according to the author of an article published in the BMJ today.

The threat to human health is of a more fundamental kind than is the threat to the world’s economic system, says Professor McMichael, a Professor of public health from the Australian National University. “Climate change is beginning to damage our natural life-support system,” he says.

The risks to health are many, and include the impact of heat waves, floods and wildfires, changes in infectious disease patterns, the effect of worsening food yields and loss of livelihoods.

The World Health Organisation estimates that a quarter of the world’s disease burden is due to the contamination of air, water, soil and food – particularly from respiratory infections and diarrhoeal disease.

Climate change, says Professor McMichael, will make these and other diseases worse. While it is unlikely to cause entirely new diseases it will alter the incidence, range and seasonality of many existing health disorders. So, for example, by 2080 between 20 and 70 million more people could be living in malarial regions due to climate change.

The adverse health impacts will be much greater in low-income countries and vulnerable sub-populations than in richer nations.

Professor McMichael says:

“Poverty cannot be eliminated while environmental degradation exacerbates malnutrition, disease and injury. Food supplies need continuing soil fertility, climatic stability, freshwater supplies and ecological support (such as pollination). Infectious diseases cannot be stabilised in circumstances of climatic instability, refugee flows and impoverishment.”

The relationship between the environment and health is complex. For example, as India modernises it expects the health of its population to improve, yet industrialisation also means a rapidly increased level of coal-burning and greater global emissions. This in turn leads to climate change, the impact of which is felt most by vulnerable populations.

Professor McMichael concludes that the global changes we are seeing now are unprecedented in their scale, and healthcare systems should develop strategies to deal with the resulting growing burden of disease and injury. More bold and far-sighted policy decisions need to be taken at national and international level to arrest the process and health professionals “have both the opportunity and responsibility to contribute to resolving this momentous issue.”

Source: British Medical Journal

Explore further: Mechanism identified through which lead may harm neural cells, children's neurodevelopment

Related Stories

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Argiod
1 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2008
This looks a lot like a lifeboat with the captain and crew hoarding supplies and allowing people at the rear of the lifeboat die of starvation when there's enough to feed everyone onboard. We need a new ecconomic system that distributes basic survival resources like food, equally to all people, not just the priviledged few. On the other hand, we also seriously need to enact strict population controls to keep from further stressing the Earth's ability to support the ever growning human population. If we don't do these things, and do them soon, humans will become the next endangered species.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.