Doctors warn climate change is now 'the greatest global health threat facing the world'

Climate activists.
Climate activists. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Every year, the Lancet medical journal publishes its countdown on health and climate change, and the 2021 edition shows that global warming caused by human activities is threatening the health of everyone in myriad ways.

Published Wednesday, the report was put together by more than 100 doctors and health experts. They wrote that climate change is "the greatest global health threat facing the world in the 21st century, but it is also the greatest opportunity to redefine the social and environmental determinants of health."

Hotter temperatures have caused problems in all corners of the globe. In the U.S. this summer, extreme heat led to the death of elderly people without air conditioning and farm workers in the fields. Other threats are more subtle — in tropical climates, insects that carry disease are multiplying and on the move. Heavy flooding is contributing to an increased risk of waterborne diseases like cholera, and wildfire smoke causes breathing problems, with the wind carrying smoke for miles. Severe droughts could lead to food shortages and starvation.


If bold action is taken worldwide to cut greenhouse gas emissions and invest in clean energy, millions of unnecessary deaths could be averted, the report states. Renee Salas, an emergency medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, contributed to the report, and told The Washington Post that "lowering greenhouse gas emissions is a prescription. The oath I took as a doctor is to protect the health of my patients. Demanding action on climate change is how I can do that."

World leaders will soon meet in Glasgow for a United Nations climate change summit, and dozens of public health experts will attend the gathering in an effort to convince them to take aggressive measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions. What is decided at meetings like this will either "lock humanity into an increasingly extreme and unpredictable environment," the report says, or "deliver a future of improved health, reduced inequity, and economic and environmental sustainability."

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