The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
'Every Child Born Today Will Be Profoundly Affected by Climate Change'
By Irene Banos Ruiz
Pediatricians in New Delhi, India, say children's lungs are no longer pink, but black.
Our warming planet is already impacting the health of the world's children and will shape the future of an entire generation if we fail to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F), the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report on health and climate change shows.
"Over the past 30 years, we've seen progressive decline in the numbers of deaths for all people and indeed for children," Anthony Costello, co-chair of The Lancet Countdown, told DW. "But what we're worrying about is that all of these gains could go into reverse if we don't urgently tackle the problem of climate change."
The research — compiled by 35 global institutions, including the World Health Organization and the World Bank —clearly shows the relationship between climate change, environmental destruction and health. Rising temperatures fuel hunger and malnutrition, an increase in the scale and scope of infectious disease and a growing frequency of extreme weather events, while air pollution has become as deadly to the human lung as smoking tobacco.
Under current emissions, children born today will live in a 4°C warmer world by the age of 71, the report says.
Difficult Access to Food
A baby born today will be exposed to the impacts of climate change from the very start of its life.
Rising temperatures coupled with drought and flooding devastate crops, causing global yields to decline. This deprives people of their livelihoods and pushes up food prices, which in turn leads to hunger and malnutrition, particularly in countries heavily reliant on agriculture, such as Burkina Faso.
"Acute malnutrition in five-year-old children in Burkina Faso is over 10%," Maurice Ye, a native to the country and advisor to the National Malaria Control Program in Madagascar, told DW. "This will increase if nothing is done to address the problem."
In India, malnutrition is already the reason for two thirds of deaths in children under the age of five, the Lancet report states.
Although malnutrition is often linked to hunger, it can also be the result of eating too much unhealthy food. As staples such as grains and rice face price hikes, consumers are motivated to buy cheaper, processed foods instead.
"That feeds into the other end of the malnutrition spectrum, which is that of overweight and obesity," Poornima Prabhakaran, deputy director of the Centre for Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India and contributing author of the report, told DW.
A Deadly Breeding Ground
Under-fives will also suffer most from the increase in infectious diseases. Rising temperatures, warming waters, changing rainfall patterns and high levels of humidity facilitate the spread of bacteria leading to diarrheal diseases such as cholera, and also create ideal breeding conditions for mosquitoes carrying malaria or dengue fever.
In 2017, there were an estimated 435,000 deaths from malaria globally and every two minutes a child somewhere in the world dies from the disease, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
This is of particular concern for countries such as Burkina Faso, where malaria caused over 28,000 deaths in 2018 alone, the WHO estimates.
But climate change will also allow these disease-carrying mosquitoes to reach new countries, such as those in southern Europe.
Around half of the world's population is now at risk from dengue disease, the Lancet report says.
If children survive malnutrition and infectious diseases, the research continues, they might not be spared devastating air pollution. This can corrupt their lung function, worsen asthma and increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
Outdoor air pollution — from fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — already contributes to 2.9 million premature deaths worldwide.
Extreme weather events are also becoming the new normal in European countries.
Heat and Cold Hit Hard
The health of a child born today could equally be damaged by extreme weather events such as wildfires and heat waves.
152 out of 196 countries have experienced an increase in people exposed to wildfires since 2001, which has resulted in direct deaths and respiratory illness. Record-breaking high temperatures, in turn, are of particular concern for elderly people over 65-years-old.
"Heat health impacts include heat exhaustion, heat stroke and aggravation of already existing morbidities from cardiovascular illness and respiratory illness," Prabhakaran said.
Heat can also lead to dehydratation in children and the elderly, experts say.
Although the world is warming, cold also represents a risk for people with little or no access to energy. "It kills more people than the heat overall," Costello said. "But a lot of that is due to social factors."
As inequalities are growing worldwide, more people find themselves in situations of vulnerability, he said.
An Urgent Coal Phase-Out
Prabhakaran hopes health impacts will be the turning point for reluctant policy makers.
"What we need to do is bring health in the center of discourse, the health impacts of fossil fuel combustion can be a strong argument for phasing out coal," she said.
The three experts agree that the first step to reducing the suffering of every child born today is a shift to a decarbonized world. It is technically feasible, they say, but will take tougher policies and genuine political will. Inaction is no longer an option.
"It's set to get much, much worse unless we take immediate action," Costello said.
Reposted with permission from DW.
- 77 Health Organizations Call for Climate Action to Fight Public ... ›
- Major Health Study Shows Benefits of Combating Climate Change ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
- Lead Poisoning Reveals Environmental Racism in the US - EcoWatch ›
- First-of-Its-Kind Study Finds Racial Gap Between Who Causes Air ... ›
- Pollution, Race and the Search for Justice - EcoWatch ›
By Peter Beech
Using waste food to farm insects as fish food and high-tech real-time water quality monitoring: innovations that could help change global aquaculture, were showcased at the World Economic Forum's Virtual Ocean Dialogues 2020.
Fly fishing. nextProtein
BiOceanOr's AquaREAL system. BiOceanOr
- Environmental Innovation Will Transform Business as Usual ... ›
- How an Army of Ocean Farmers Is Starting an Economic Revolution ... ›
The big three broadcast channels failed to cover the disproportionate impacts of extreme weather on low-income communities or communities of color during their primetime coverage of seven hurricanes and one tropical storm over three years, a Media Matters for America analysis revealed.
Researchers at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly announced yesterday that it will start a trial on a new drug designed specifically for COVID-19, a milestone in the race to stop the infectious disease, according to STAT News.
- Dogs Can Smell COVID-19 - EcoWatch ›
- Drugs Touted by Trump for COVID-19 Increase Heart Risks, Studies ... ›
- Coronavirus Vaccine Candidate Shows Promise in Mice - EcoWatch ›
The sixth mass extinction is here, and it's speeding up.
Terrestrial vertebrates on the brink (i.e., with 1,000 or fewer individuals) include species such as (A) Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis; image credit: Rhett A. Butler [photographer]), (B) Clarion island wren (Troglodytes tanneri; image credit: Claudio Contreras Koob [photographer]), (C) Española Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis; image credit: G.C.), and (D) Harlequin frog (Atelopus varius; the population size of the species is unknown but it is estimated at less than 1,000; image credit: G.C.).
- Humanity 'Sleepwalking Towards the Edge of a Cliff': 60% of Earth's ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
- The Insect Apocalypse Is Coming: Here Are 5 Lessons We Must Learn ›