The relatively small but committed bunch of environmentalists who have been desperately trying to make humanity, particularly the powerful nations in the developed world take climate change seriously are routinely dismissed as scaremongers by many, the big oil companies in particular. The man on the street seems to be in denial or is ignorant of the catastrophic implications of climate change. The truth is that climate change will impact us in a multitude of ways ranging from halving rain – fed agriculture in many African nations, increasing coastal flooding to millions dying from malaria and dengue.
Yet, the current discourse is dominated by issues such as the impact of aging and lifestyle diseases on populations while discounting the looming dangers of climate change on our health.
Are people aware how climate change will affect global health? Most certainly not! The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that some 140,000 people will lose their lives annually as a direct result of climate change due to various factors such as the impact of heat stress conditions, upper respiratory tract ailments, drought and hunger.
We are all witness to green spaces giving way to concrete jungles in our cities which has been spiking temperatures and degrading the air quality which itself has been affecting urban health. The higher temperatures and extreme weather conditions precipitated by climate change will undoubtedly magnify public health issues. To put it simply, climate change will translate into more hospital visits and more sick people.
Consider the fact that in New York City, each single degree increase in the summertime surface temperature has witnessed simultaneous 2.7–3.1 percent increase in same-day hospitalisations due to respiratory diseases, and an increase of 1.4–3.6 percent in hospitalizations due to cardiovascular diseases. What more proof do people require of the disastrous impact of climate change on our health? If or when the world’s temperature becomes 2 degrees warmer and consequently millions of people are sick or dying from infectious diseases, our public health systems will collapse. This is not scaremongering.
Is anyone listening or bothered, be it the public, the media, the politicians or big business? As environmentalists cry themselves hoarse, the rest of the world is in denial mode. The world has to drastically change its perspective and start focusing more on the factors that cause disease and the wellness of the planet for a start. What will it take for the public to wake up? When and if it does, it will in all probability be too late.