Extreme weather conditions due to climate change have triggered hunger in nearly 100 million people and increased heat-related deaths by 68% in vulnerable populations around the world, as the world’s “fossil fuel addiction” degrades public health every year, doctors have reported in a new study.
Worldwide, the burning of coal, oil, natural gas and biomass forms air pollution that kills 1.2 million people a year, including 11,800 in the United States, according to a report published on Tuesday. in the prestigious medical journal Lancet.
“Our health is at the mercy of fossil fuels,” said Marina Romanello, a health and climate researcher at University College London, executive director of The Lancet Countdown. “We are seeing a continued reliance on fossil fuels that not only amplifies the health effects of climate change, but is also worsening at this point with other concurrent crises we are facing globally, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, cost of living crisis, energy crisis and food crisis triggered after the war in Ukraine.
In the Lancet’s annual countdown, which examines climate change and health, nearly 100 researchers around the world have highlighted 43 indicators where climate change is making people sicker or weaker, with a new look at the hunger added this year.
“And the health impacts of climate change are increasing rapidly,” Romanello said.
In praising the report, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it even more bluntly than the doctors: “The climate crisis is killing us.”
A new analysis of the report attributed 98 million additional cases of self-reported hunger worldwide in 2020, compared to 1981-2010, to “extreme heat days that are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change”.
Researchers looked at 103 countries and found that 26.4% of the population suffered from what scientists call “food insecurity” and in a simulated world without the effects of climate change, that would have been just 22 .7%, Romanello said.
“Can I say that every element of food insecurity is due to climate change? Of course not. But we think in this complex web of causes it’s a very important contributor and it’s only going to get worse,” said pediatrician Dr Anthony Costello, co-chair of the Lancet Countdown and director of the Global Health Institute at University College. of London.
Computer epidemiology models also show an increase in annual heat-related deaths from 187,000 per year from 2000 to 2004 to an annual average of 312,000 per year over the past five years, Romanello said.
When there’s a heat wave, like the one that broke all records in 2020 in the Pacific Northwest or this summer’s English heat wave, ER doctors know when they’re going to the hospital.” we are going to experience a difficult change,” said the co-author of the study. Dr. Renee Salas, Boston emergency physician and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Air pollution from burning coal, oil and gas also pollutes the air, causing an estimated 1.2 million deaths a year worldwide from small particles in the air, scientists say and the report. The 1.2 million figure is based on “tremendous scientific evidence,” said Salas of Harvard.
“Burning gas in cars or coal in power plants has been shown to cause asthma in children and heart problems,” Salas said.
“Prescribing an inhaler won’t fix the cause of an asthma attack in a young boy living next to a highway where cars produce dangerous pollutants and where climate change is driving increased smoke from wildfires, pollen and ozone pollution,” Salas said.
Air pollution and heat deaths are bigger problems for the elderly and the very young and especially the poor, said Natasha DeJarnett, professor of environmental health at the University of Louisville, co-author of the study.
Sacoby Wilson, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland who was not part of the report, said the Lancet study made sense and framed the health effects of climate change in a powerful way.
“People are dying now as we speak. Droughts, desertification, lack of food, floods, tsunamis,” Wilson said. “We see what happened in Pakistan. What you see happening in Nigeria. ”
Wilson and University of Calgary emergency physician and professor of medicine Dr. Courtney Howard, who was not part of the study, said the report’s authors are correct in calling the problem an addiction to fossil fuels. , similar to an addiction to harmful substances. drugs.
The Lancet report shows rising deaths from air pollution and heat, but people ‘continue to engage in habitual behavior despite known harms’, which is the definition of addiction, said Howard. “So far, our treatment of our addiction to fossil fuels has been ineffective.”
“It’s not a rare cancer that we don’t have a cure for,” Salas said. “We know the treatment we need. We just need the will of each of us and our leaders to make it happen.”
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