Climate Change & Health: Interactive New England Journal Of Medicine Report

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The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, has put together an interactive online presentation called The Climate Crisis — Health and Care Delivery that illustrates the relationship between climate change and health.

climate change and health
Credit: New England Journal of Medicine

The report focused on the following areas in which the impact of climate change has been observed by health care professionals. When you visit the report page, click on each category to learn more.

  • Cadiovascular disease
  • Dermatological disease
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Geriatric conditions
  •  Infectious diseases
  • Mental health conditions
  • Neurological diesease
  • Nutrition
  • Obstetric disease
  • Pediatric conditions
  • Pulmonary disease
  • Renal disease
  • Trauma

Renee Salas, a co-author of the report who teaches emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School, tells The Guardian, “The climate crisis is impacting not only health for our patients but the way we deliver care and our ability to do our jobs. And that’s happening today.”

Babies & Climate Change

Bruce Bekkar is an obstetrician gynecologist in San Diego who stopped practicing six years ago to spend more time as a climate activist. He and his colleagues have compiled 68 studies from the continental US on the association between heat, smog, and particulate matter from fossil fuels and how they are connected with premature birth, low birth weight, and stillbirth.

He tells The Guardian he and his co-authors found a significant association with climate change in 58 of the 68 studies, which combined covered 30 million births in the US. “We’re finding that we have increasing numbers of children born already in a weakened state from heat and air pollution. That’s a totally different story than thinking about climate change as the cause of hurricanes over Florida … It’s a much more pervasive and ongoing impact.”

Cardiovascular & Other Diseases

Hotter temperatures lead to higher levels of air pollution, which puts stress on both the heart and the lungs. Smog is worse on hotter days and acts “like a sunburn on your lungs which may trigger an asthma attack,” according to the American Lung Association.

Heat also makes people irritable, leads to dehydration and an increased risk of skin cancer, as well as promoting the spread of insects that carry dengue fever, Lyme disease and other illnesses. Heavy rains can introduce contaminants that make people sick into drinking water supplies and contribute to algae blooms in fresh water and the oceans, further endangering humans.

Mental Health Consequences

The American Psychological Association has created a 69-page guide that describes how climate change can induce stress, depression, and anxiety. It says “the connections with mental health are often not part” of the discussion about climate change and health.

The University of Maryland’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism found emergency calls relating to psychiatric conditions increased about 40% in Baltimore in the summer 2018 when the heat index surged above 103º F.

Scientists have found that carbon dioxide emissions are lowering the nutritional density of food crops. Lower levels of protein, zinc, and iron are leading to more nutritional deficiencies. Food supplies are also disrupted by drought, societal instability, and inequity linked with climate change.

Putting A Price On Health

There is a lot of discussion today about how much transitioning away from fossil fuels will cost — trillions and trillions of dollars by most estimates. Yet there is little discussion about how preventing climate change will create a bonanza of economic benefits, from lower health care costs to greater productivity of workers who are not absent on a regular basis due to the health impacts associated with a warming planet.

Climate deniers love to focus on the cost of doing something, but how do you put a price on healthy humans? Those who focus solely on the cost of change are only telling part of the story, and a small part at that. The costs of doing nothing will be much, much higher.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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