Climate change is deemed the “greatest public health challenge of the 21st century.”
It’s time to start tackling climate impacts on human health
Climate change is going to pose problems for human health in coming years, yet its predicted impacts are still widely neglected. Now the U.S. Call to Action: Policy Action Agenda for Climate, Health and Equity wants to change this lack of attention.
Signed by 107 organizations in healthcare, climate action, and academia, the agenda calls on “government, business, and civil society leaders, elected officials, and candidates for office to recognize climate change as a health emergency.”
The agenda focuses on preventing and mitigating manifold climate-related risks, some of which are going to have widespread impacts. For instance, as the climate gets warmer, deadly diseases such as Zika or dengue fever are going to migrate further north, along with the spread of Aedes mosquitos that spread these diseases. Meanwhile, changing seasons will influence the spread of viruses brought by birds and make spring allergies and asthma cases more severe.
Frequent floods will increase the contamination of farms, leading to more cases of diarrhea and lower human productivity. Meanwhile, heatwaves will increase the vulnerability of people suffering from heart diseases. Extreme weather events will cause people to face post-traumatic stress disorders after losing their homes and jobs. Higher rates of domestic abuse might also become common as it has been the case in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
As a result, climate change is now deemed the “greatest public health challenge of the 21st century” by the authors of the agenda.
They outline 10 priority areas that should ensure effective climate action, address key risks and bring about synergies in terms of their cumulative impacts. Among the priorities are strengthening U.S. climate commitments, moving towards greener energy sources, transport and agriculture; making equity central to climate action; and ensuring clean and safe drinking water for all.
The document also outlines ways to invest in climate and health, introduce climate-related solutions into all health services, and increase the resilience of communities to climate change. The expected health outcomes of these actions include lower rates of communicable and non-communicable diseases, better mental health, healthcare cost-savings and overall improvements in human well-being and quality of life.
The agenda concludes that “with the right policies and investments today, we have the opportunity to realize our vision of healthy people in healthy places on a healthy planet.”