Climate change is bad for our health

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Climate change is bad for our health

By George Gillett

On 23rd September, more than 120 world leaders, including Barack Obama and David Cameron, will go to a UN meeting about climate change in New York. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon organised the meeting, before the agreements in Paris next year.

So last Sunday more there were more than 2,800 marches in 166 countries - the largest climate-change protest in world history. There were 300,000 people at the biggest march, in New York. People are very worried about climate change, and feelings are getting stronger. More people are demanding that world leaders do something.

And the campaigns are changing. Climate-change protests used to be only for small groups worried about protecting endangered species.

But now the scientists have shown how bad climate change will probably be, many more campaigners are coming together. Because we know now that climate change is bad for global health.

Of course endangered species are important too. But climate change does not only affect polar bears and beautiful glaciers. It is a danger to human health too. And that should be a very good reason for our world leaders to promise to do something about it.

Doctors and scientists agree about the dangers to health. Important journals like Science and The Lancet have had complete editions about health and climate change.

There are many dangers. There are immediate dangers from extreme weather eg. hurricanes and flooding. But after these events there are very serious effects on health. These last for a long time after the news reporters have left.

After Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year, the World Health Organization vaccinated thousands of children to try to stop diseases eg. polio and measles.

And the problem of disease isn’t only a problem for the countries of the Global South – after Hurricane Katrina in the US, there were many more Vibrio bacteria (that can cause diseases like cholera).

The best healthcare systems in the world will probably find it difficult to fight against the effects of human-made climate change.

There are other ways that global warming could be bad for health. The insects that carry diseases like malaria and Dengue fever will live in different areas.

Malaria has already moved to new places in the last twenty years. Maybe there will be malaria in the UK by 2050.

There are direct effects on health of rising temperatures. For example, in Australia, the number of days when the temperature is above the international standard for safe work will probably go up from 5 to 39 days per year.

The heatwave in 2003 in Europe killed more than 35,000 people just in France.

Climate change is also bad for nutrition, because it affects how much food the land and sea produce. If we do not adapt, by 2050, there will be 20 million more children under five without enough food.

And it is not fair. The people who will probably suffer most from climate change are the people that have used least fossil fuels.

Doctors and scientists know how dangerous climate change is. They want world leaders to take action at the UN summit this week. There were people from the British Medical Association at the protests on Sunday. And they’re not alone.

Researchers from University College London have said that climate change is the biggest danger to global-health threat in the 21st century. And the World Health Organization agrees. They had a conference about it last month.

It is not often that the whole medical community agree. Campaigners should talk about this evidence, not only conservation problems.

When we show that climate change is a public-health problem, people take it more seriously. So if we talk about the health consequences of climate change, we could get governments to do something.

At the UN summit this week, world leaders have a choice: they could agree on big changes to do something about climate change now, or wait for the terrible results if they do nothing. In the past, with public health, we have seen that it is better to do something before to stop problems, than to deal with them after they happen. With the dangers of climate change, this is very true.

George Gillett is a freelance journalist and medical student at the University of Oxford.

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