More than 70 people died after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August, and more than 75 others were killed when Hurricane Irma hit Florida and traveled through the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and other countries weeks later.
Although we often think of storms like these simply as natural disasters, they're counted among the consequences of climate change. Therefore, the deaths and injuries and illnesses storms like Harvey and Irma cause are also counted in reports of how climate change is impacting public health. According to a new report, that impact is greater than many of us probably realize.
Medical journal The Lancet released their yearly climate change "check up" this week, Time reports, showing that climate change is damaging the health of millions of people worldwide. The report calls storms like global-warming-caused hurricanes and wildfires "unnatural disasters." But these phenomena contribute only partially to climate change's public health risk.
Rising global temperatures have also impacted the way that disease is spread, causing greater outbreaks of infectious diseases like: malaria, dengue fever, cholera, tick-born encephalitis, and West Nile virus, Time reports. Other tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, are also climbing. Lyme disease has tripled in the U.S. over the last 20 years, according to the report, as warmer weather allows ticks to move further north and also creates a breeding ground for disease-carrying ticks.
Climate change also connects to an uptick in allergies and longer allergy seasons, as well as failing crops that lead to greater malnutrition worldwide.
Because of problems like these, especially impacting the health of our most vulnerable populations — children and the elderly, and people in poverty — the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change has called for a change in how we handle climate change, calling it "the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century."
Those behind the climate check-up say that we need a major overhaul in energy sources, or else risk this public health crisis getting even bigger.
"Broadly, the world has not responded to climate change, and that lack of response has put lives at risk," Nick Watts, executive director of the Lancet Countdown, told the Chicago Tribune. "The impacts we're experiencing today are already pretty bad. The things we're talking about in the future are potentially catastrophic."
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