Climate change could “halt and reverse” progress made in human health over the last century.
The grim analysis comes from one of the authors of a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine that suggests rising global temperatures could lead to many more deaths than the 250,000 a year the World Health Organization predicted just five years ago.
In reviewing the research on the topic, study co-author Sir Andrew Haines thinks our health is much more vulnerable to climate change – and he believes 250,000 deaths is a “conservative estimate.”
“We think the impact is more difficult to quantify because there is also population displacement and a range of additional factors like food production and crop yield, and the increase in heat that will limit labor productivity from farmers in tropical regions that wasn’t taken into account among other factors,” said Haines, a British epidemiologist and former director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Due to climate change-related food shortages alone, the world could see a net increase of 529,000 adult deaths by 2050, the report said. Climate change could force 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030 and poverty makes people more vulnerable to health problems.
Haines adds that climate change, “while the most important environmental threat facing humanity,” is not the only environmental problem that threatens our health.
The depletion of freshwater resources, the unprecedented biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, overfishing, pollution, deforestation and the spread of invasive species, that are related to climate change, but are environmental problems on their own, all compound these public health threats he said.
“It is an urgent task to understand how to safeguard health in the face of these dramatic trends, all of which are caused by human activities related to patterns of economic activity.” Haines added.