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Medical Journals Consider Climate Change As the ‘Greatest Threat to Global Public Health’

Oct 20

In an unusual joint editorial, the editors of about 200 medical journals globally labeled the rise of 1.5-degree-Celsius in global temperatures as the "greatest threat to global public health." These editors urged for immediate action to resist climate change. They called on the government and demanded that they prioritize emission reductions to circumvent the "catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse." 

Based on current policies, by 2100, the world is expected to warm by around 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Therefore, editors demand the same degree of funding and urgency world leaders used to confront the coronavirus pandemic, cooperate, and invest in the environmental crisis. They want the government to treat ecological problems similar to the Covid-19 pandemic because "The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse," the authors wrote. 

The New York Times reports that even though medical journals also have produced joint statements in the past, this is the first time an editorial has been coordinated at this scale. 

According to the Times, the efforts involved medical journals—like The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine, and the British Medical Journal—from every continent, accounting for perspectives from a wide range of medical and health disciplines.

According to the authors, "no temperature rise is 'safe.'" In the editorial, the authors cited research that demonstrated the dangers of increasing temperatures. This research explains how in the last 20 years, the heat-related mortality rate, renal function loss, tropical infections, dermatological malignancies, adverse mental health outcomes, pregnancy complications, and cardiovascular and pulmonary morbidity has increased. The editorial raised concerns about the direct health consequences of rising temperatures and the indirect costs. The indirect costs include the effects of soil depletion on malnutrition, and the destruction of habitats could increase the possibility of pandemics in the future.

The authors of the editorials have charged the wealthy countries responsible for leading climate change initiatives because the developed nations tend to contribute more to emissions. Although they acknowledged that many rich nations have already employed cleaner technology to cut emissions, the editorial demanded that the governments take further action. They want the leaders to "support the redesign of transport systems, cities, production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments, health systems, and much more." 

In the editorial, the authors asked these nations to go beyond their shared goals. They want the developed nations to dedicate $100 billion to developing nations for climate resiliency plans, including money to bolster health care systems in those countries. The editor-in-chief of the East African Medical Journal and a co-author of the editorial, Lukoye Atwoli, in a statement said 

"While low and middle-income countries have historically contributed less to climate change, they bear an excessive burden of the adverse effects, including on health; we, therefore, call for equitable contributions whereby the world's wealthier countries do more to offset the impact. Of their actions on the climate."

Recent studies have portrayed that extreme weather events worsened due to climate change, contributing to a wide range of adverse health outcomes. Earlier this year, research proposed that about one-third of heat-related deaths globally could be due to the extra warming caused by climate change. It was reported that this summer, hundreds of Americans died due to extreme weather conditions. Climate scientists believe that it was due to climate change that 600 people died due to the weeklong record-breaking heatwave in the Pacific Northwest. This is the reason that the editors of health journals call for governments and other leaders to act. They want Urgent, society-wide changes to be made to lead to a fairer and healthier world. They want to mark the year 2021 as the year that the world finally changes course.

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