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Climate Catastrophe Threatens Global Health and Food Emergencies


September 20, 2018
Justine Calma / Grist & Nicola Davis / The Guardian & Carla Green / The Guardian

One of the larger themes at this week's massive Global Climate Action Summit taking place in San Francisco is the relationship between climate change and human health. City heatwaves could lead to two to three times as many deaths by 2050, the report says. Rising levels of carbon dioxide could make crops less nutritious and damage the health of hundreds of millions of people. By 2100, without a reduction in emissions, California could see a 77% increase in the average area burned by wildfires.

https://grist.org/article/hospitals-take-aim-at-the-greatest-health-threat-of-the-21st-century/

Climate and Health Catastrophe Looms
Hospitals Take Aim at 'the Greatest
Health Threat of the 21st Century'

Justine Calma / Grist

(September 17, 2018) -- One of the larger themes at this week's massive Global Climate Action Summit taking place in San Francisco is the relationship between climate change and human health.

"Health is the best way to relate to human beings on the issue," former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Friday during a session titled "Health is where climate change hits home." "Let's put a face on climate."

Activist artist (and 2018 Grist 50 honoree) Favianna Rodriguez was among those to lend their visage to the cause. "I grew up in a very dirty community -- a community that is plagued by asthma as a result of fossil fuels burning up and down the freeway," said the Oakland native, who spoke at a session on climate justice and equity (where health was also front and center).

In response to the public health threat posed by warming, members of the health care sector pledged to go beyond just treating patients and shrink their carbon footprints. That might not sound huge, but consider that if America's health care system were a country, it would be the world's seventh-largest producer of carbon dioxide.

Earlier this week, health care institutions representing more than 17,000 hospitals and clinics across more than two dozen countries agreed to slash four coal plants' worth of carbon emissions from their operations each year.

The initiative, led by the Global Climate and Health Forum, calls climate change "the greatest health threat of the 21st century." The forum notes that warming threatens food and water systems, helps to spread mosquito-borne diseases, and exposes more people to heat waves and other extreme weather events.

"Our biggest hope is that the summit will serve to mobilize people in the health sector around the world to really step up and take action," says Linda Rudolph, who heads the Public Health Institute's Center for Climate Change and Health and also hosts the U.S. Climate and Health Alliance.

Rudolph and the Global Climate and Health Forum have outlined a call to action encompassing 10 priorities that they are pushing other health organizations to endorse. They include everything from exceeding the commitments of the Paris Agreement, making solutions to climate change a critical part of health systems, and ensuring that action to stop warming includes gender equity.

"The health sector can reduce its own footprint by moving to renewable energy, by using a food supply chain that's local and healthy and sustainable," Rudolph tells Grist. "The health sector can make sure that we build resilience in our communities."


Climate Change Threatens Food Quality
Climate Change Will Make Hundreds of
Millions More People Nutrient-Deficient

Nicola Davis / The Guardian UK

Crops grown in a high CO2 atmosphere
are less nutritious, containing
less protein, zinc and iron


(August 28, 2018) -- Rising levels of carbon dioxide could make crops less nutritious and damage the health of hundreds of millions of people, research has revealed, with those living in some of the world's poorest regions likely to be hardest hit.

Previous research has shown that many food crops become less nutritiouswhen grown under the CO2 levels expected by 2050, with reductions of protein, iron and zinc estimated at 3-17%.

Now experts say such changes could mean that by the middle of the century about 175 million more people develop a zinc deficiency, while 122 million people who are not currently protein deficient could become so.

In addition, about 1.4 billion women of childbearing age and infants under five years old will be living in regions where there will be the highest risk of iron deficiency.

Among other problems, zinc deficiencies are linked to troubles with wound healing, infections and diarrhoea; protein deficiencies are linked to stunted growth; and iron deficiencies are tied to complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

"This is another demonstration of how higher CO2 could affect global health that may not be as well recognised," said Dr Matthew Smith, co-author of the study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. "Continuing to keep up our vigilance around reducing CO2 emissions becomes all the more important because of this research."

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, Smith and co-author Samuel Myers, also from Harvard, describe how they drew on data from a host of sources, including figures from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, to explore food supply in different countries. In total Smith and Myers looked at 225 different foods including wheat, rice, maize and specific vegetables, roots and fruits.

The team also took into account regional differences in the nutrient content of crops and how diet differs with age and sex within countries, using data collated by other researchers from surveys around the world.

The team then looked at how nutrient intake would change, assuming CO2 levels continue to rise at the current rate.

The results, which cover 151 countries, reveal that it is countries in north Africa, south and south-east Asia and the Middle East that are likely to be among the hardest hit -- together with some nations in sub-Saharan Africa. In India, it is estimated that by 2050 about 50 million more people will be zinc deficient, and 38 million more protein deficient. With quality of diet linked to income, the researchers say the poorest in such countries are most likely to be at risk.

By contrast, countries including the US, France and Australia and parts of south America are expected to experience little impact

The team also note that with an estimated 662 million people already protein deficient, and 1.5 billion zinc deficient, many people could be pushed into deeper deficiencies as CO2 levels rise.

However the study had limitations, including that it assumed diets would stay constant over the coming years, while it did not take into account that rising CO2 levels might increase the rate of plant growth. The authors note that even if individuals were able to eat more of the plants to get the same nutrient intake, they might end up with other issues like obesity, while climate effects such as increased temperatures and water stress could actually result in an overall decrease in crop yields.

While Smith notes many things could change between now and 2050, he said one possibility for vulnerable countries is to breed crops that are either higher in nutrients or whose nutrient content is resistant to CO2 increases, while other options include looking at fortification of foods or increasing intake of animal-sourced foods.

Dr. Kai Zhu, assistant professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz who was not involved in the study, said the study offered a clear message that climate change has a significant impact on human health.

"If no actions are taken, additional millions to billions of people will be nutrition deficient because of rising CO2, and the most vulnerable regions in the world will suffer the greatest impacts," he said. "Future public health policies have to take climate change into consideration."


'Apocalyptic Threat': Dire Climate Report
Raises Fears for California's Future

Carla Green / The Guardian

Statewide assessment, which comes
amid summer of extreme wildfires,
warns of deadly cost if
climate change is not stopped


SACRAMENTO (August 27, 2018) -- California's summer of deadly wildfires and dangerous heatwaves will soon be the new normal if nothing is done to stop climate change, a report released on Monday warns.

City heatwaves could lead to two to three times as many deaths by 2050, the report says. By 2100, without a reduction in emissions, the state could see a 77% increase in the average area burned by wildfires. The report also warns of erosion of up to 67% of its famous coastline, up to an 8.8F (4.9C) rise in average maximum temperatures, and billions of dollars in damages.

"These findings are profoundly serious and will continue to guide us as we confront the apocalyptic threat of irreversible climate change," said the state's governor, Jerry Brown, in a tweet about the report, the fourth statewide climate change assessment released since 2006.

Rising temperatures could lead to up to 11,300 additional deaths in 2050, the report says, and the overall number of days marked by extreme heat will "increase exponentially in many areas".

The effects of those extreme heat days will probably weigh most heavily on the state's most vulnerable residents, including the more than 100,000 people who are homeless in California, many of whom live on the streets without reliable access to fans, air conditioners, or running water.

"The 2006 heatwave killed over 600 people, resulted in 16,000 emergency department visits, and led to nearly $5.4 billion in damages," the assessment reports. "The human cost of these events is already immense, but research suggests that mortality risk for those 65 or older could increase tenfold by the 2090s because of climate change."

The California energy commission chairman, Robert Weisenmiller, said: "It really forces you to think through what do we do about the more elderly -- the more endangered." The commission was one of three agencies that published the report. "How do we protect them during these intense heat periods?"

As researchers point out in a summary of the findings, cooling mechanisms such as air conditioners can help mitigate the effects of intense heatwaves, but increased electrical consumption can also drive up the emissions responsible for climate change in the first place. And the double threat of wildfires and increased energy consumption can endanger a power grid vital in a crisis.

The "apocalyptic threat" the governor described would present itself in myriad ways in a state prone to extreme weather events like drought and wildfires, said Amir AghaKouchak, an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a researcher who contributed to the assessment.

As climate change progresses, AghaKouchak said, overall rainfall would probably remain the same, but it would come in the form of extreme storms followed by longer periods without rain.

"There will be two consequences: one is more potentially extreme floods, and the other is problems with drought management."

Intense rainfall after a season of wildfires could also mean more landslides similar to the deadly mudslides in Santa Barbara earlier this year, AghaKouchak said. More rain coming in short bursts was likely to aggravate water management problems in a state already stricken by drought. And drought areas -- including much of California -- have been shown to warm faster than others, he said.

The North Fork Mono tribe chairman, Hon Ron Goode, who also contributed to the assessment, said it was the first time the state's native population had been included in the report, despite the fact that native Californians were among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

But before colonization, Goode said, the native population would not have been so vulnerable, because it was more mobile and could nimbly adapt to changes in the climate. "They knew how to move around and where to go and let something rest," he said. "Now, it's different. We're locked into our reservations; rancherias; allotment lands. We can't just run away -- those are our lands and that's it."

The report offers some suggestions of how to mitigate the disastrous effects it predicts, Weisenmiller said, from land use planning to reducing California's greenhouse gas emissions, just under half of which come from transportation.

"The good news is that it's not 'here's the dire impact', but 'here's some ways to mitigate the dire impacts'. It should give people some hope," Weisenmiller said.

But Goode said he was not sure whether to be hopeful. "I won't say that I'm hopeful. I would like to feel hopeful, but I don't see it happening right now," he said. "I don't see the politicians stumbling over themselves to make that change."

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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