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Climate Crisis Causes Deaths, Stunting and Malnutrition and It’s Going to Get Much Worse, New Report Says

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Climate Crisis Causes Deaths, Stunting and Malnutrition and It’s Going to Get Much Worse, New Report Says
In this handout image provided by UNICEF, a young boy from the Taunono community, looks on after the community was completely destroyed by Cyclone Pam, on March 17, 2015 in Port Vila, Vanuatu. UNICEF / Getty Images

A bleak new report highlights how the climate crisis is responsible for deaths and will cause more in the coming decades, along with malnutrition, stunted growth and lower IQs in children directly impacted by the crisis, as the Guardian reported.


The policy report From Townsville to Tuvalu produced by Global Health Alliance Australia in partnership with Monash University in Melbourne looked at how the climate crisis will affect the Asia Pacific Region, the effect it has already had and it makes recommendations for what the Australian government can do to mitigate its impact.

Australia has seen fatalities within the last decade due to extreme weather and heat waves.

"There are absolutely people dying climate-related deaths, [especially due to] heat stress right now," said Misha Coleman, executive director of Global Health Alliance Australia, to the Guardian. "During the Black Saturday fires [in Victoria in 2009] for example, we know that people were directly killed by the fires, but there were nearly 400 additional deaths in those hot days from heat stress and heatstroke."

It has also seen a cognitive effect on children who experienced extreme weather events in utero. For example, children born to women who were pregnant during 2011 flooding in Brisbane had, on average, lower IQs, smaller vocabularies and less imagination than their peers at age two.

As the world deals with higher concentrations of greenhouse gasses, the nutritional values of staple crops will decline, leading to stunting, anemia and malnutrition in children, within 10 to 20 years, according to the Guardian.

"What's the future for our children?" said Coleman to the Guardian. "These events are more common, more frequent and not going to become less so in a short amount of time."

The researchers behind the report looked at nearly 120 peer-reviewed articles to piece together the impact the climate crisis will have on the region. The paper pointed out that the spread of rare tropical diseases might become prevalent as the diseases find favorable conditions in Australia, such as the Nipah virus, a bat-borne disease that causes fatal infections in humans and pigs in South East Asia.

The paper also warns that the Australian health care system will be overwhelmed if climate refugees seek help there because nearby countries have inadequate healthcare systems to handle a spike in sickness due to a climate emergency.

The report highlighted a 2018 paper put out by the World Health Organization that predicted "between 2030 and 2050 climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year from heat stress, malaria, malnutrition and diarrhea," according to the report. It pointed that the various consequences of the climate crisis will not create new diseases, but will amplify existing ones and overburden health care systems.

The Global Health Alliance Australia paper leaned heavily on the WHO's categories of health risks from the climate crisis, which are:

• Direct impacts from the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather

• Environmentally mediated impacts, including air pollution, less fresh water and changing patterns of disease

• Socially mediated impacts, including undernutrition, mental illness, population displacement and poverty.

The second two bullet points are the insidious dangers that Global Health Alliance Australia says the Australian government should prepare for.

"Severe weather events are causing flooding, particularly in informal settlements in the Pacific, that leads to diseases including diarrhea, that can be very serious and fatal in people, particularly children," said John Thwaites, chair of the Sustainable Development Institute at Monash University, as the Guardian reported.

In addition to Nipah virus, the report warned that mosquitos would spread dengue, chikungunya and zika, as the global temperatures warm and mosquito populations expand their reach. In fact, Q fever is already prevalent in Townsville, a city in northeastern Queensland.

"Q fever is something that is carried by a lot of wild and domesticated animals," said Coleman to the Guardian. "As climate change degrades their habitat through fires and drought, these animals go looking for green grass and fresh water [and] they find themselves on golf courses and on retirees' two-acre blocks."


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An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

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A quality engineer examines new solar panels in a factory. alvarez / Getty Images

Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.

For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.

"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."

To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.

"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."

So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

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