Doctors: Fossil fuels kill millions of people

Extreme weather brought on by climate change starved nearly 100 million people and increased heat deaths by 68% in vulnerable populations around the world, as global “fossil fuel addiction” deteriorates public health each year , doctors reported in a new study.

The burning of coal, oil, natural gas and biomass around the world creates air pollution that kills 1.2 million people a year, according to a report published Tuesday in the Lancet medical journal.

“Our health is at the mercy of fossil fuels,” said University College London health and climate researcher Marina Romanello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown.

“We are seeing a persistent addiction to fossil fuels that not only amplifies the health impacts of climate change, but also, right now, is on top of other concurrent crises we are facing globally, such as the current pandemic. of COVID-19, the crisis associated with the cost of living, and the energy and food crises that were triggered after the war in Ukraine.”

In the annual Lancet Countdown report, which looks at climate change and health, nearly 100 researchers from around the world highlighted 43 indicators where climate change is making people sick or weak, with a new look at hunger added this year. .

“And the health effects of climate change are increasing rapidly,” Romanello said.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres praised the report, adding that “the climate crisis is killing us.”

A new analysis in the report attributes an additional 98 million cases of self-reported hunger in the world in 2020 to “extreme hot days that are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change,” compared to 1981-2010.

The researchers analyzed 103 countries and found that 26.4% of the population experienced what scientists call “food insecurity,” and that in a simulated world without the effects of climate change it would have been only 22.7%, Romanello said. .

″Can I say that all food insecurity is due to climate change? Of course not. But we think that in this complex web of causes, it contributes very significantly and it’s going to get worse,” said Dr. Anthony Costello, a pediatrician, co-chair of the Lancet Countdown, and director of the Institute for Global Health at University College London.

Computer epidemiological models also show an increase in annual heat-related deaths, which have risen from 187,000 a year between 2000 and 2004 to an annual average of 312,000 in the last five years, Romanello says.

When a heat wave strikes, like the 2020 heat wave in the northwestern United States or the heat wave in the middle of this year in England, emergency doctors know that in the hospital “we have a difficult shift ahead of us,” said the Dr. Renee Salas, co-author of the study, an emergency physician in Boston and a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The scientists and the report note that air pollution from burning coal, oil and gas causes around 1.2 million deaths a year worldwide due to small particles in the air.

The 1.2 million figure is based on an “immense amount of scientific evidence,” said Salas of Harvard University.

“It has been proven that the combustion of gasoline in cars or coal in thermoelectric plants causes asthma in children and causes heart problems,” said Salas.

“Prescribing an inhaler is not going to solve the cause of an asthma attack for a young child who lives next to a highway where cars produce dangerous pollutants and climate change means there is more smoke from wildfires, more pollen and more ozone pollution,” said Salas.

Both air pollution and heat deaths are major problems for the elderly and the young, and especially the poor, said University of Louisville environmental health professor Natasha DeJarnett, a co-author of the study.

Sacoby Wilson, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland who was not part of the study, said the Lancet report makes sense and expresses the health effects of climate change in a compelling way.

“There are people who are dying right now. Droughts, desertification, not having enough food, floods, tsunamis,” Wilson said. “We are seeing what is happening in Pakistan. What you are seeing happening in Nigeria.”

Both Wilson and Courtney Howard, an emergency room doctor and professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, who was also not part of the study, agree with the report’s authors in calling the problem an addiction to fossil fuels, similar to being addicted to drugs. harmful.

The Lancet report shows the increasing number of deaths from air pollution and heat, and yet people “continue their usual behavior despite knowing the harms,” ​​which is the definition of addiction, Howard stressed. “Our treatment for fossil fuel addiction has so far been ineffective.”

“This is not about a rare form of cancer for which there is no treatment,” Salas said. “We know the treatment we need. We just need the will of all of us and our rulers to succeed.”


Seth Borenstein is on Twitter as @borenbears


The Associated Press’s coverage of climate and health is supported by several private foundations. The HPD is solely responsible for all content.

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