Doctors take on the fossil fuel industry, blaming the world’s worst health problems on companies that continue to seek profits in oil and gas even as climate change worsens the waves heat, intensifies flooding and undermines people’s sanity.
“The burning of fossil fuels is creating a health crisis that I cannot solve the moment I see patients in my emergency department,” said Dr. Renee Salas, summarizing the findings of a report published Tuesday in The Lancet. . “Fossil fuel companies are making record profits while my patients suffer their downstream health issues.”
Salas, an emergency physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is one of nearly 100 authors who contributed to the prestigious medical journal’s annual report on climate change and health.
The report accuses fossil fuel suppliers – and the governments that subsidize them – of undermining “efforts to deliver a low-carbon, healthy and livable future” and demands that world leaders take a sustainability-centric approach. health to solve the climate crisis.
The theme of the report reflects growing frustration and helplessness expressed by health professionals who must deal with the impacts of climate change as world leaders struggle to address the root cause.
“The report highlights the damage the fossil fuel industry has really done in creating this crisis,” said Dr. Jerry Abraham, director and chief vaccinologist at Kedren Community Health Center in Los Angeles, who did not participated in the drafting of the report. “Enemy is a harsh word, but it must be used.”
As in previous reports, the Lancet 2022 countdown paints a grim picture of how climate change threatens people’s health and the healthcare systems that are supposed to help manage it, calling its latest findings “most serious”. ” nowadays. This year’s report leaves little ambiguity about who doctors believe is responsible for the harm and stress they experience in clinics.
The annual report lists the impacts of the change on global health, and a separate briefing note describes the impacts in the United States.
According to these reports:
- Global heat-related deaths have increased by around 68% since the turn of the millennium, according to data comparing 2000-04 to 2017-21, when the problem was made worse by Covid-19. Extreme heat was linked to 98 million cases of hunger worldwide. In the United States, heat-related deaths among people over the age of 65 are estimated to have increased by about 74% over the same period.
- Tiny particles released into the air as pollution during the use of fossil fuels were responsible for 1.2 million deaths in 2020. About 11,840 deaths in the United States were attributable to particulate air pollution, according to Salas .
- Changes in temperature, rainfall and population since the 1950s have increased the transmissibility of mosquito-borne diseases, with dengue, chikungunya and Zika all increasing by around 12%. In the United States, the transmissibility of dengue fever was approximately 64% higher.
- Climate change has implications for mental health. “There is strong evidence that climate change is associated with more depression, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety,” said Natasha K. DeJarnett, lead author of the U.S. policy brief and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Louisville.
There are encouraging signs. The report notes growing investment in renewable energy, increasing media coverage of climate change, and growing engagement of government leaders on health-focused climate policies. But the report warns that inequality could weaken progress.
Abraham, who treats patients in South Los Angeles, said he regularly sees the effects associated with climate change at his clinic – including children with asthma, older patients with health issues related to heat and others suffering from pollution-related illnesses such as cancer. .
He worries that inequality will widen and some people will be left behind as the United States invests in electrification and decarbonization.
“My patients in South Los Angeles — black and brown Los Angeles — are going to be some of the most vulnerable. Many don’t have air conditioning and we are facing rising temperatures and heat waves,” Abraham said, adding that the price of healthy food is rising, as are transport costs. “Imagine having all that investment in electricity, but our patients have to take their battered Chevy to the gas station and contribute to the climate crisis to get our food.”
On a larger scale, the report warns that rich countries have fallen behind in helping the poorest countries, which are often among the most exposed to health problems due to climate change and which have the least responsibility for creating the problem.
The Lancet Countdown is published each year ahead of the UN’s annual climate change conference, called COP27 this year and scheduled to take place in Egypt in early November.
After floods left a third of Pakistan under water and killed thousands, the nation is among those demanding climate reparations – a topic that is sure to come up at the global climate talks.
“It’s going to be a big issue at the COP – loss and damage,” said Carol Devine, who works on climate issues for Doctors Without Borders.
Devine said that if rich countries don’t follow through on previous commitments and add funds to strengthen poor countries’ health systems to help them adapt to climate change, “humanitarian organizations are going to be overwhelmed.”
The health care industry also has a responsibility to eliminate its own contributions to climate change, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. Healthcare organizations are responsible for about 5.2% of global emissions and about 8% in the United States, according to Lancet reports.
“We can start working much more aggressively to revitalize our hospitals and get them off fossil fuels,” Benjamin said.