Researchers outlined a harrowing reality about the global environment as it exists today in a report titled, "The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: from 25 years of inaction to a global transformation for public health," published this week in The Lancet.
The report warns "human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible — affecting the health of populations around the world today." It went on to outline statistics that scientists have warned the public about for years.
Weather-related disasters have increased 46% since 2000, which have had catastrophic effects on our cities and coastlines. Economic losses resulting from climate-related incidents totaled $129 billion in 2016. About 2,110 cities in the World Health Organization (WHO) air pollution database exceed recommended levels of atmospheric particulate matter. The transmission of dengue fever has increased 9.4% since 1950. High temperatures have resulted in an estimated 5.3% reduction in global outdoor manual labor productivity. The list goes on.
While the paper indicates that 449 cities around the world have reported pursuing a climate change risk assessment, it is hard to know how much these assessments have actually challenged cities to implement forward-thinking policies. Global initiatives like the Paris Agreement have helped to unify governments — even local governments within countries where leaders have disavowed the accord, like the U.S. — yet that's not enough. The report says that many "signs of progress provide the clearest signal to date that the world is transitioning to a low-carbon world," though that progress must continue with high energy to ensure a safer future for mankind.
Below are three interactive infographics, developed by The Lancet, that illustrate how continued damage to the environment has had a direct effect on human health around the globe.
Premature death attributed to air pollution
In the above 21 countries, air pollution from coal power plants, transportation, household heating sources, agriculture and other sources contributed to 1.9 million deaths in 2015. Ironically, the report indicates that newspaper coverage of heath and climate change has increased 78% since 2007, largely driven by southeast Asian newspapers. Media coverage of the risks of air pollution is crucial, yet not enough to prevent these deaths.
While the above chart only outlines the impacts of atmospheric pollution in southeast Asia, dangers are not limited to that pocket of the globe. According to the findings from both the WHO Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database and the Sustainable Healthy Urban Environments Database, in a sample of 246 global cities, the transport sector was largely to blame for air pollutants — and responsible for around half of all energy-related nitrogen oxide emissions. Trends like electric vehicles and buses are starting to shape the future of sustainable mobility, however, as these risks become more well-known.
A spike in infectious disease risk
A rise in global temperatures has led to an increased risk of floods and storms, therefore increasing the risk of infectious disease from mosquitos that are attracted to standing water. The above chart shows the sharp uptick in a mosquito's capacity to transmit dengue — an increase of 9.5% since 1950. Hugh Montgomery, co-chairman of the report, told CNN, "cases of dengue fever have doubled every decade since 1990," indicating that the risk is not only in a mosquito's ability to transmit disease. Illness is actually rising, too.
Dengue is particularly apparent in the Asia-Pacific, Latin American, and Caribbean regions, yet that doesn't eliminate North American communities from being at-risk. Just as the Zika virus was transmitted to U.S. citizens — particularly in Florida — mosquitos carrying dengue are capable of penetrating U.S. borders.
Reduced labor capacity due to rising temperatures
High temperatures have caused the global labor capacity in rural populations to decrease by approximately 5.3% from 2000 to 2016, impacting the livelihoods of those dependent on farming and other laborious activities. The capacity saw a significant drop between 2015 and 2016, which may signal a dangerous trend.
Without the capacity for rural farmers to maintain agriculture in a healthy manner, food supplies across the entire globe are at-risk. Ensuring food security is already a high-level priority, especially as certain foods become more stubborn with rising temperatures. Developing a resilient plan for a sustainable food system should be a priority of cities everywhere.