Doctors say “fossil fuel addiction” kills, starves millions of people

Extreme climate due to climate change has resulted in hunger in nearly 100 million people and increased heat deaths in vulnerable populations around the world by 68% as the world’s “fossil fuel addiction” degrades public health every year , according to doctors in a new study.

Worldwide, the burning of coal, oil, natural gas and biomass forms air pollution that kills 1.2 million people a year, including 11,800 in the United States, according to a report published Tuesday in the prestigious Lancet medical journal.

“Our health is at the mercy of fossil fuels,” said Marina Romanello, a health and climate researcher at the University of London, executive director of Lancet Countdown. “We are seeing a persistent dependence on fossil fuels that is not only amplifying the health impacts of climate change, but is now also escalating with other simultaneous crises we are facing globally, including the COVID pandemic.” 19 in progress, the cost of living crisis, the energy crisis and the food crisis triggered after the war in Ukraine ”.

In the annual Lancet Countdown, which examines climate change and health, nearly 100 researchers around the world highlighted 43 indicators where climate change is making people sicker or weaker, with a new look at hunger added. year.

“And the health impacts of climate change are increasing rapidly,” Romanello said.

In praising the report, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed it even more bluntly than doctors: “The climate crisis is killing us.”

A new analysis in the report blamed 98 million more cases of declared hunger worldwide in 2020, compared to 1981-2010, with “days of extreme heat that increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change”.

The researchers surveyed 103 countries and found that 26.4% of the population experienced what scientists call “food insecurity” and in a simulated world without the effects of climate change that would have been only 22.7%, he stated Romanello.

“Can I say that any slightest food insecurity is due to climate change? Obviously not. But we think that in this complex web of causes, it is a very significant contribution and it will only get worse, ”said pediatrician Dr. Anthony Costello, co-chair of Lancet Countdown and head of the Global Health Institute at University College London.

Computerized epidemiological models also show an increase in annual heat-related deaths from 187,000 annually from 2000 to 2004 to an annual average of 312,000 annually over the past five years, Romanello said.

When there is a heatwave, such as the record-breaking 2020 Pacific Northwest heatwave or the British heatwave this summer, emergency room doctors know when they go to the hospital “we are in a challenging change.” said study co-author Dr. Renee Salas, a Boston emergency room physician and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Air pollution from the burning of coal, oil and gas also pollutes the air, causing an estimated 1.2 million deaths a year worldwide from small particles in the air, the scientists and the report say. The 1.2 million figure is based on “enormous scientific evidence,” Harvard’s Salas said.

“Burning gas in cars or coal in power plants has been found to cause asthma in children and heart problems,” Salas said.

“Prescribing an inhaler will not solve the cause of an asthma attack for a boy who lives near a highway where cars produce dangerous pollutants and climate change is causing increased smoke from fires, pollen and pollution from ozone, “Salas said.

Both air pollution and heat-related deaths are major problems for the elderly, the very young and especially the poor, said Natasha DeJarnett, professor of environmental health at the University of Louisville, co-author of the study.

Sacoby Wilson, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland who was not part of the report, said the Lancet study makes sense and frames the effects of climate change on health in a powerful way.

“People are dying now as we speak. Drought, desertification, lack of food, floods, tsunamis, “Wilson said.” We are seeing what happened in Pakistan. What you see happening in Nigeria. “

Both Wilson and the emergency room physician and University of Calgary professor of medicine Dr. Courtney Howard, who was not part of the study, said the report’s authors are correct in calling the problem a fossil fuel addiction. similar to being addicted to harmful substances. drugs.

The Lancet report shows increasing deaths from air pollution and heat, but people “continue to behave habitually despite known harm,” which is the definition of addiction, Howard said. “So far our treatment of our fossil fuel addiction has been ineffective.”

“This is not a rare cancer for which we don’t have a treatment,” Salas said. “We know the treatment we need. We just need the willpower of all of us and our leaders to make it happen. “

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

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