Climate Change Already Harming Health

Daily Camera by Katie Langford

Climate change is already harming the health of people around the world and it will only get worse without intervention, according to a new report co-authored by University of Colorado Boulder faculty.

With contributions from 120 experts at 35 institutions around the world, the 2019 Lancet Countdown report paints a grim picture of what the world will look like without a drastic change in the consumption of fossil fuels.

Though the consequences of climate change — including disease outbreak, air pollution, wildfire risk, heat exposure and food and water insecurity — impact all age groups, children and the elderly are the most vulnerable to dying because of those impacts, according to the report.

Max Boykoff, an associate professor at CU Boulder and director of the Center for Science and Technology Research, was on the CU Boulder team that looked at how media outlets have covered climate change and public health.

While more news coverage is linking climate change to public health issues, it’s still not commensurate with the scale of the problem, Boykoff said.

“The bottom line is that we are currently facing and we need to confront many challenges connected between public health and climate change,” Boykoff said. “We need to very fundamentally and substantially and boldly take new, larger scale approaches to engagement through policy action, research and business engagement to reduce the threats on public health for people in this world now and going forward into the future.”

The report finds that air pollution already contributes to millions of deaths every year — approximately 7 million in 2016, according to the World Health Organization.

CU Boulder Assistant Professor Colleen Reid, who researches climate change and health, said air pollution and health problems caused by wildfires in California and Oregon do not bode well for Colorado.

“We’ve been spared from significant smoke impacts for the last few years, but that’s not to say Colorado will be spared in the future,” she said. “We can expect there to be significant air pollution impacts from wildfires in the future.”

Greenhouse gases are also a concern for the Front Range — specifically tropospheric ozone that’s formed through the chemical reactions of other pollutants, Reid said.

Children are the most vulnerable to many of the impacts of climate change, according to the report, and rising global temperatures increase the transmission of diseases that are most harmful to children, including intestinal illnesses and dengue fever.

There are some bright spots in the report, including evidence that positive change is taking place, such as the increased use of renewable energy and electric vehicles and improved air quality in Europe.

But for the most part, countries seem to be taking a “business as usual” approach that will result “in a fundamentally altered world,” according to the report.

“The life of every child born today will be profoundly affected by climate change,” the report states. “Without accelerated intervention, this new era will come to define the health of people at every stage of their lives.”


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