Climate activism is good for health

by David Suzuki

Climate activism is good for health

David Suzuki  August 24, 2022 at 3:37 pm

Get involved and get out into nature. You’ll feel better while helping the planet! (Photo: Janice Williams via Flickr)

Burning coal, oil and gas in vehicles, factories, power plants and homes causes a range of health problems: asthma, heart attacks, strokes, respiratory disease and more. It caused one in five deaths worldwide in 2018, according to research from Harvard University and others.

But it’s not just pollution putting health and lives at risk; climate disruption from burning fossil fuels is also wreaking havoc on human health. A recent review of “more than 77,000 research papers, reports and books for records of infectious diseases influenced by climatic hazards that had been made worse by greenhouse-gas emissions” — most published after 2000 — found climate change caused or aggravated 277 infectious and non-transmissible diseases and conditions, including 58 per cent of all infectious diseases.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change in early August, examined 10 climate-change-induced hazards, including droughts, floods, heat waves, wildfires, storms, sea level rise and changes to natural land cover.

climate disruption from burning fossil fuels is also wreaking havoc on human health

Warming, precipitation changes, habitat disruption and more have brought disease-carrying organisms and pathogens increasingly closer to humans. These include dengue, chikungunya, plague, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, Zika, trypanosomiasis, echinococcosis and malaria. Most are spread by vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and birds, but direct contact, waterborne, airborne and foodborne illnesses are also rising. Besides communicable diseases, global heating also increases levels of plant and fungal allergens, the study found.

Climate disruption can also make some pathogens more virulent and transmissible and, at the same, time “weaken people’s ability to cope with infections through factors such as mental stress, lowered immunity and malnutrition.”

Earlier research shows that deforestation and habitat loss bring animals that carry viruses such as COVID-19 closer to humans and livestock, increasing the risk of pandemics. And pollution from burning fossil fuels can exacerbate symptoms for illnesses such as COVID, as it’s a respiratory disease.

The consequences go beyond illness, suffering and death. The Nature Climate Change study notes, “the cumulative financial costs of the COVID-19 pandemic could mount to US$16 trillion for the United States alone.”

Climate change is also profoundly affecting mental health worldwide. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation shows global heating is increasing stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide among people who experience climate-related disasters, have their livelihoods threatened by them or simply watch the crisis unfold.

global heating is increasing stress, depression, anxiety … among people who experience climate-related disasters, have their livelihoods threatened by them or simply watch the crisis unfold

As with physical illness, and climate change itself, these mental health challenges affect some more than others — young people especially, but also those in farming and Indigenous communities, and people who are marginalized and have limited access to resources.

A 2021 study found mental health conditions affect at least a billion people worldwide and cost trillions of dollars every year, and that climate-related issues are adding to the burden. It noted that impacts are “likely to be vastly underestimated as despite the serious effects, this has been a neglected area of research” and that they will “get worse without meaningful interventions, driving and exacerbating health and social inequalities which themselves worsen mental health.”

For physical illness, the Nature Climate Change study notes, “The sheer number of pathogenic diseases and transmission pathways aggravated by climatic hazards reveals the magnitude of the human health threat posed by climate change and the urgent need for aggressive actions to mitigate GHG emissions.”

The mental health study says efforts to tackle climate change will have greater benefits than expected, “as they will prevent or reduce adverse effects on mental health that have not yet been considered in policies and budgets.” It also points out that getting involved in actions to reduce or prevent climate change threats can improve mental health.

getting involved in actions to reduce or prevent climate change threats can improve mental health

“Taking climate action seems to be very positive for mental health, both on an individual and community scale, but also as a society,” report lead Emma Lawrance of Imperial College London said. Spending time in nature also helps.

As I and others have long pointed out, we’re part of nature, and what we do to it we do to ourselves. We can’t have healthy people without healthy environments and a healthy planet. We must do everything to reduce fossil fuel use and all energy consumption and to protect and restore natural areas.

Get involved and get out into nature. You’ll feel better while helping the planet!

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David Suzuki

David Suzuki, Co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. David is renowned for his radio and television programs that explain the complexities of the natural sciences in a compelling, easily understood way.

Education

As a geneticist. David graduated from Amherst College (Massachusetts) in 1958 with an Honours BA in Biology, followed by a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Chicago in 1961. He held a research associateship in the Biology Division of Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Lab (1961 – 62), was an Assistant Professor in Genetics at the University of Alberta (1962 – 63), and since then has been a faculty member of the University of British Columbia. He is now Professor Emeritus at UBC.

Awards

In 1972, he was awarded the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship for the outstanding research scientist in Canada under the age of 35 and held it for three years. He has won numerous academic awards and holds 25 honourary degrees in Canada, the U.S. and Australia. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada and is a Companion of the Order of Canada. Dr. Suzuki has written 52 books, including 19 for children. His 1976 textbook An Introduction to Genetic Analysis(with A.J.F. Griffiths), remains the most widely used genetics text book in the U.S.and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Indonesian, Arabic, French and German.

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