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Climate Change Already Hurting Our Health and Economy, Report Warns

Climate change is already killing people through extreme weather and is damaging human health, as well as the economy, a new report finds.
IMAGE: Steam emitted from coal-fired power plant
Steam billows from the chimney of the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire, in this Jan. 20, 2015 file photo.Jim Cole / AP

Climate change is already killing people, hurting their health, worsening air pollution and helping the spread of infectious diseases, a global team of researchers said Monday.

Environmental disruptions are also affecting economies and costing hundreds of billions of dollars a year, mostly because of extreme weather events, the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change found.

Image: Evacuees
Residents wade past a flooded car as they evacuate their homes near the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rise in Houston on Aug. 29.David J. Phillip / AP file

“Between 2000-2016, there has been a 46 percent increase in the number of weather-related disasters, and 125 million adults aged over 65 were exposed to heat waves,” the Lancet, an international medical journal, wrote.

“Increasing temperatures have led to around 5.3 percent loss in labor productivity, and economic losses linked to climate-related extreme weather events were estimated at $129 billion in 2016.

Related: Is Global Warming Making Us Sick?

It may already be too late to stop warming trends that are driving the changes, the report warns. “The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible — affecting the health of populations around the world today,” it read.

“The delayed response to climate change over the past 25 years has jeopardized human life and livelihoods,” it added.

But quicker action to address the change could make life better for many people, the team of climate scientists, doctors, ecologists, economists, engineers, experts in energy, food, and transport systems, geographers, mathematicians, social and political scientists found.

“We cannot simply adapt our way out of this, but need to treat both the cause and the symptoms of climate change,” said Hugh Montgomery, director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London, who helped lead the collaboration.

Some of their recommendations:

  • Invest in climate change and public health research
  • Scale up financing for climate-resilient health systems
  • Phase out coal-fired power
  • Rapidly expand access to renewable energy

Some of the recommendations directly conflict with the Trump Administration’s energy policy. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he will override the Obama administration’s clean power plan and Trump has pledged to bring back coal mining jobs.

Related: Trump Appears to Push Both Coal and Natural Gas

Trump also pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, a deal reached among 195 countries in 2015 to gradually reduce emissions that cause climate change.

There’s no doubt among climate scientists that the climate is getting warmer and that this is affecting weather and the oceans. And there is no legitimate debate over whether people are causing this change — we definitely are.

"When a doctor tells us we need to take better care of our health we pay attention, and it's important that governments do the same."

There’s been little doubt that these weather effects are hurting health. Catastrophic weather evens such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and heat waves kill people directly. But warming trends have also allowed mosquitoes to thrive. For instance, the Aedes aegypti mosquito that spreads dengue, Zika and yellow fever, among other viruses, is finding more places to live.

The same goes for mosquitoes that spread malaria and West Nile virus.

"The number of cases of dengue fever has nearly doubled every decade," the report reads.

Related: Trump Climate Decision Could Endanger Health, Doctors Say

Air pollution involving certain fine particles has increased by 11 percent since 1990, the report found. More than 70 percent of cities monitored by the World Health Organization exceed the recommended levels of these pollutants, the report found.

"(The report) also shows that tackling climate change directly, unequivocally and immediately improves global health," said Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

"Most countries did not embrace these opportunities when they developed their climate plans for the Paris Agreement," said Figueres. "We must do better. When a doctor tells us we need to take better care of our health we pay attention, and it's important that governments do the same."