Failing to connect the fossil fuel dots of climate change and health

05.11.2018 - London, UK - Silvia Swinden

This post is also available in: Spanish

Failing to connect the fossil fuel dots of climate change and health
A Mobile Pollution Check Vehicle in India. (Image by Hindustanilanguage • CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The world is facing two serious emergencies that share the same roots and yet there seems to be a blind spot for those dealing with Climate Change and loss of biodiversity in relation to the millions of deaths caused by illnesses linked to water, air and food contamination created by the same fossil fuels that are changing the climate, and vice versa. There seems to be a resistance to qualify this process as a form of violence but in fact the number of deaths and conflicts driven by the effects of dependence on fossil fuels (when renewables are becoming cheaper and the technology more refined) completely justifies it.

According to the WHO “Poisonous air is having a devastating impact on billions of children around the world, damaging their intelligence and leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, according to a report from the World Health Organization.

“The study found that more than 90% of the world’s young people – 1.8 billion children – are breathing toxic air, storing up a public health time bomb for the next generation.

“The WHO said medical experts in almost every field of children’s health are uncovering new evidence of the scale of the crisis in both rich and poor countries – from low birth weight to poor neurodevelopment, asthma to heart disease.

“Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO director of public health and the environment.

“The study found that 600,000 children die from acute lower respiratory infections caused by dirty air and 93% are exposed to one of the most damaging pollutants – PM2.5. In poorer countries, 98% of all children under five are exposed to PM2.5 above WHO guidelines…Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable, with dirty air linked to premature and underweight children. Air pollution also increases the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life… WHO Director Tedros, writing in the Guardian on Saturday, described air pollution as the “new tobacco”, saying the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more.”

On the other hand the UN has just warned there is a window of just 12 years to change course to avoid the catastrophe: “The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

“The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on Monday say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.

“the half-degree difference could also prevent corals from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic, according to the 1.5C study, which was launched after approval at a final plenary of all 195 countries in Incheon in South Korea that saw delegates hugging one another, with some in tears.

The scientists found:

• By 2100, global sea level rise would be 10cm lower with global warming of 1.5C compared with 2C.

• Extreme heatwaves will be experienced by 14% of the world’s population at least once every five years at 1.5C. But that figure rises to more than a third of the planet if temperatures rise to 2C

• Arctic sea ice would remain during most summers if warming is kept to 1.5C. But at 2C, ice free summers are 10 times more likely, leading to greater habitat losses for polar bears, whales, seals and sea birds.

• If warming is kept to 1.5C, coral reefs will still decline by 70-90% but if temperatures rise to 2C virtually all of the world’s reefs would be lost

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…”Policymakers commissioned the report at the Paris climate talks in 2016, but since then the gap between science and politics has widened. Donald Trump has promised to withdraw the US – the world’s biggest source of historical emissions – from the accord. The first round of Brazil’s presidential election on Sunday put Jair Bolsonaro into a strong position to carry out his threat to do the same and also open the Amazon rainforest to agribusiness.”

Global temperature anomalies for 2015 compared to the 1951–1980 baseline. 2015 was the warmest year in the NASA/NOAA temperature record, which starts in 1880. It has since been superseded by 2016 (NASA/NOAA; 20 January 2016).

There is little doubt that the current refusal by the most polluting countries based on a false economy of not worrying about consequences as long as the profits keep coming in is driving both the possible collapse of ecosystems and millions of deaths from pollution. Failing to connect both problems allows the usual fragmentation that rewards resisting change because the true extent of the catastrophe remains outside public awareness. Like other forms of cruelty growing in the world, together with racism, sexism, antisemitism, islamophobia, violent treatment of people displaced by war and violence, it joins them in the far right populist movements sweeping across the world. 

We have seen a growing response from grassroots to propose compassionate and sane alternatives, but they are still not strong enough the turn the tide. Voting, joining pressure groups and spreading real information is within everyone’s reach.

Categories: Ecology and Environment, Health, International, Opinions
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