Who died as a result of climate change?

Health and climate change : How global warming is already making old people and children sick

Word has got around that the current excessive CO2 and particulate matter emissions are not good for the planet. But the implications for most people still remain rather abstract. The authors of the study "Lancet Countdown", which was published yesterday, set out to change this: In their report they describe the health consequences of global warming and global particulate matter emissions for human health.

For this they start with impressive, optionally shocking figures: According to the report, 171 tons of coal, 11.6 million liters of gas and 186,000 liters of oil are consumed worldwide - every second. If this development were to continue in this way, a child born today would have to reckon with a temperature increase of four degrees until the end of his life, with all the consequences that this entails.

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Bacteria of the Vibrio genus, which cause gastroenteritis, diarrhea, blood poisoning and cholera, among other things, would be better able to spread through warmer coastal waters. If in the 1980s 3.5 percent of the German coast had provided a good basis for survival for Vibrio bacteria, it was 17.5 percent in 2018.

Last year there were 107 infections on the European Baltic coast, a record since records began. This growing danger particularly affects the most vulnerable groups of the population. In children under five years of age, Vibrio infections are the second leading cause of death worldwide.

Germany is the front runner in fossil fuels

The report, entitled "The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change," therefore focuses on those who are still young today. It is specifically dedicated to the consequences of climate change for people's health, today and in the future. For example, the almost 50,000 deaths and the 20 billion euros in costs that are caused annually by fine dust in Germany.

When it comes to the use of fossil fuels, the Federal Republic of Germany occupies a leading position in the report, in a negative sense. Germany has the most CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, almost 37 percent of the electricity in this country is produced with coal, in the whole of Europe the quota is only 20 percent.

The resulting fine dust production caused almost 49,000 deaths in 2016, 8,000 of which were arithmetically attributable to coal combustion. This concerns fine dust with a maximum diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) - the particles can settle in the lungs via the airways, damage the heart and also attack other organs.

Almost three million people worldwide died in 2016 as a result of PM2.5 fine dust. Children are particularly prone to this, says Nick Watts, as their bodies are still developing and the negative effects of air pollution are accumulating. The health consequences can also be converted into an economic indicator. According to this, Germany suffered an economic loss of 20 billion euros from particulate matter deaths in 2016. If fine dust were to be emitted at a constant level in the coming years, the costs across Europe would be almost 130 billion euros every year.

More deaths from heat waves

The foreseeable warming increases the health risks. Elderly people in particular with, for example, chronic heart, lung, kidney disease or diabetes are prone to heat stress, heat strokes or acute kidney failure. In 2018, 13 million people over 65 years of age were exposed to heat waves in Germany, which is six million more than in 2015, when there were an estimated 6100 deaths.

The risk of diseases spreading from the south to the north has been known for a long time, as higher temperatures - but also tourism - can cause the carriers to establish themselves in new regions. The probability that Asian tiger mosquitoes can survive in Germany is 92 percent higher today than it was in 1950, and with it the risk that they will transmit dengue fever here, according to the report.

Rachel Lowe, Assistant Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Tagesspiegel Background that the spread of tropical diseases such as Zika is already normal in southern Europe and that this trend will continue in the north.

Air conditioning systems fuel and alleviate global warming

The report also addresses a dilemma when it comes to the use of air conditioning systems. Especially in Germany, where temperatures prevail in many old people's homes and clinics that do not reduce the heat stress, especially for the elderly, and thus increase the health risk, the question that should be raised more and more often as climate change progresses is whether this should be counteracted with air conditioning - which at the same time Electricity consumption increased and with it the production of CO2 and particulate matter.

“On the one hand, the use of air conditioning systems worldwide reduced the number of heat fatalities by an estimated 23 percent in 2016,” according to the report; on the other hand, CO2 production by air conditioning systems more than tripled between 1990 and 2016 to 1.1 gigatons worldwide - by 2050 a further doubling would be expected if the trend were continued. The Lancet Countdown does not recommend doing without air conditioning, but rather more efficient systems, self-cooling architecture and the use of renewable energies.

The cost of adapting the health system to climate change will rise rapidly in every health system around the world, the researchers predict. In the 2017/18 period, global costs would have been 11 percent higher than in 2016/17. “In order to prevent a health catastrophe,” comments Martin Hermann from the German Climate Change and Health Alliance, “we have to stop burning fossil fuels. We know the solutions, but unfortunately we still don't understand how urgent time is to act. "

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