Viewpoint: No, Climate Change Is Not the Biggest Risk to Global Health
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Climate change will cause all sorts of problems for humans in the future. It could cause mass migration and conflict as people flee flooded homes or arid farmland, and fight over ever more scarce resources. It’ll mean economic slowdown as industries are hit and societies cough up the money required to adapt to the new world. Climate change will even affect your health.
Indeed, some scholars have warned that climate change is the greatest risk to global health. While this is likely to be true beyond the next 30 years if CO2 emissions continue unabated, this kind of argument risks reinforcing the reductionist idea that climate is some sort of universal predictor of health.
The time lag between greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment means that, until at least 2045, poverty will be a much more important health factor than climate change. My commentary, recently published in the Geographical Journal, argues that this is for two reasons.
First, climate change should not be considered a direct cause of poor health in the way specific diseases can be. Even if it were a direct cause, there would be more important threats such as heart and lung disease or cancers. These non-communicable diseases already comprise the leading causes of death globally, and their burden is likely to increase as people age and adopt Western lifestyles.
Second, the threat of climate change to health is one of modification: a changed climate will exacerbate and moderate existing health problems by making people more vulnerable. If vulnerability to climate change is addressed through adaptation, the threat will be much reduced, though not averted.
- Health Care