Doctors denounce “record profits” for fossil fuel companies as climate change weighs on global health

Doctors are targeting the fossil fuel industry, blaming the world’s most serious health problems on companies that continue to seek profits from oil and gas even as climate change worsens heat waves, intensifies floods and disrupts the world. people’s mental health.

“The burning of fossil fuels is creating a health crisis that I cannot resolve when I see patients in my emergency room,” said Dr Renee Salas, summarizing the findings of a report published Tuesday in The Lancet. “Fossil fuel companies are making record profits as my patients suffer from their downstream health damage.”

Salas, an emergency physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is one of nearly 100 contributing authors to the prestigious medical journal’s annual report on climate change and health.

The report accuses fossil fuel suppliers – and the governments that subsidize them – of subverting “efforts to provide a low-carbon, healthy and livable future” and calls on world leaders to pursue a health-focused approach to solving the crisis. climatic.

The report’s theme reflects a growing frustration and helplessness expressed by medical professionals left to deal with the impact of climate change as world leaders struggle to address the root cause.

“The report highlights the damage that the fossil fuel industry has really caused by creating this crisis,” said Dr. Jerry Abraham, director and chief vaccinologist at Kedren Community Health Center in Los Angeles, who was not involved in writing. of the report. “Enemy is a harsh word, but it must be used.”

As in previous reports, the 2022 Lancet Countdown paints a grim picture of how climate change is threatening people’s health and the care systems that are supposed to help manage it, calling its latest findings the “most dire.” This year’s report leaves little ambiguity as to who doctors hold responsible for the damage and stress they experience in clinics.

Annual report catalogs the health impacts of change around the world and a separate policy paper outlines the impacts in the U.S.

According to these reports:

  • Heat-related deaths worldwide have increased by about 68% since the turn of the millennium, according to data comparing 2000-04 with 2017-21, when the problem was exacerbated by Covid-19. Extreme heat has been linked to 98 million starvation cases worldwide. In the United States, heat-related deaths for people over the age of 65 are estimated to have increased by about 74% over the same time period.

  • Tiny particles released into the air as pollution during fossil fuel use were responsible for 1.2 million deaths in 2020. According to Salas, about 11,840 deaths in the United States were attributable to particulate air pollution.

  • Changes in temperature, rainfall and population since the 1950s have increased the transmissibility of mosquito-borne diseases, with dengue, chikungunya and Zika fever all increasing by about 12%. In the United States, the transmissibility of dengue fever was about 64% higher.

  • Climate change is putting a strain on mental health. “There is strong evidence that climate change is associated with more depression, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety,” said Natasha K. DeJarnett, lead author of the US policy paper and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Louisville. .

There are some signs of hope. The report notes the growth in investments in renewable energy, increased media coverage of climate change, and the growing commitment of government leaders to health-focused climate policies. But the report warns that inequalities could undermine progress.

Abraham, who cares for patients in southern Los Angeles, said he regularly sees the effects associated with climate change at his clinic, including children suffering from asthma, older patients who have heat-related health problems, and others who suffer from pollution-related diseases such as cancer.

He fears that inequalities will increase and that some people will lag behind as the US invests in electrification and decarbonisation.

“My patients in southern Los Angeles, black and brown, will be among the most vulnerable. Many do not have air conditioning and we are dealing with rising temperatures and heat waves, ”Abraham said, adding that the price of healthy food is rising, as are transportation costs. “Imagine we have all these investments in electricity, but our patients have to take their battered Chevy to the gas station and contribute to the climate crisis to go and collect our food.”

On a larger scale, the report warns that rich countries have fallen behind in helping poorer countries, who are often among the most at risk of health problems from climate change and have less responsibility for creating the problem.

The Lancet Countdown is released each year ahead of the annual United Nations climate change conference, called COP27 this year, which will take place in Egypt in early November.

After the floods left a third of Pakistan underwater and killed thousands, the nation is among those calling for climate reparations, a topic that is sure to emerge during global climate talks.

“It will be a big deal at the COP: loss and damage,” said Carol Devine, who works on climate issues for Doctors Without Borders.

Devine said that if rich countries fail to deliver on previous commitments and add funding to strengthen health systems in poorer countries to help them adapt to climate change, “humanitarian organizations will be overwhelmed.”

The healthcare industry also has a responsibility to eliminate its own contributions to climate change, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. Healthcare organizations are responsible for about 5.2% of global emissions and about 8% in the United States, according to Lancet reports.

“We can start working much more aggressively to revitalize our hospitals and free them from using fossil fuels,” Benjamin said.

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