Melissa Healy / The Los Angeles Times & Christopher Flavelle / Bloomberg – 2019-01-28 21:21:11
Doctors Warn Climate Change Is
Making Us Sicker and Shortening Our Lives
Melissa Healy / The Los Angeles Times
(January 23, 2019) — In the welter of daily demands upon physicians, it might be easy to imagine that weaning the world off its reliance on fossil fuels is asking a bit too much.
But preventing sickness and averting premature death are squarely in a physician’s wheelhouse. And dramatic increases in both sickness and death are projected for the foreseeable future as the world’s continued reliance on fossil fuels results in more air pollution, infectious diseases, malnutrition, wildfires, extreme heat and increasingly powerful weather events.
So combating climate change is clearly part of a doctor’s job description, argue a pair of articles published in last week’s edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. If there’s a failure to act, well over 250,000 people around the world will lose their lives each year between 2030 and 2050, according to estimates from the World Health Organization.
“Working to rapidly curtail greenhouse gas emissions is now essential to our healing mission,” wrote Dr. Caren G. Solomon of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Dr. Regina C. LaRocque of Massachusetts General Hospital, both physicians and public health experts.
Doctors should use their trust and authority to educate colleagues, patients and students about the health consequences of climate change and the need for rapid reductions in fossil fuel use, Solomon and LaRocque wrote. “We can help motivate people to act by clarifying the links between environmental degradation and tangible problems.”
Conveniently, the widely circulated medical journal also published a review of current findings to help doctors get up to speed. In a comprehensive accounting, epidemiologist Andrew Haines and global health specialist Kristie Ebi reprised roughly 20 years’ worth of research on the effects that a warming environment can be expected to have on heat-related illnesses, diseases linked to poor air quality, food production, and scourges spread by such insects as ticks and mosquitoes.
None of that takes into account the fact that the US healthcare sector’s energy use is itself a major driver of global warming. One estimate blames hospitals, doctors’ offices, biomedical labs and pharmaceutical manufacturing for nearly one-tenth of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions; if the US healthcare sector were a country, it would rank seventh in the world, according to that calculation.
The array of health-related ills that flows from a reliance on fossil fuels is sprawling:
Nutrition: As the climate heats up and agricultural conditions shift, yields of vegetable and legume crops will suffer. In addition, rising concentrations of carbon dioxide will adversely affect the nutritional quality of such cereal crops as rice and wheat, lowering their levels of protein and B vitamins.
A 2016 estimate published in The Lancet reckons that by 2050, unchecked climate change will reduce food availability to the average person by 3.2% and will have led to the premature deaths of 529,000 adults worldwide compared with a world without global warming.
Infectious and Microbial Disease: Disease-spreading microbes and insects will proliferate as some of the planet’s hottest, wettest and poorest places grow hotter, wetter and poorer.
Sea-level rise and coastal flooding will do more than drown people and crops: they will also accelerate the spread of cholera, malaria, diarrheal disease, dengue fever, encephalitis and Zika virus. Bodies of water will be plagued by more and deadlier algal blooms (as seen in Florida last year) and tainted more often by cryptosporidiosis, cholera and leptospirosis, sickening more people.
Chronic Conditions: Unchecked air pollution and rising heat will cause and exacerbate asthma, allergies and cardiovascular disease. Worldwide, pollutants in the air are reckoned to be responsible for between 6.5 million and 10 million premature deaths annually. In the United States, it is estimated that approximately 58% of the excess deaths are attributable to the use of fossil fuel and arise particularly from traffic, power production and industry.
Heat Exposure: The sheer weight of exposure to excessive heat will be deadly across the American South, Africa and East Asia. One modeling study that plumbed data from 451 locations in 23 countries showed that deaths from heat stroke are already occurring, and by the end of this century could rise by between 3% and 12% in hotter regions. Rising heat led to the loss of 153 billion hours of labor in 2017, 80% of it in the agricultural sector.
And this list does not take into account the injuries and deaths caused by hurricanes, mudslides, wildfires and extreme weather events â€” all of which are expected to increase as heat-trapping gases continue to build up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The World Bank has estimated that unless governments and societies prepare to absorb climate shocks, global warming could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030. That kind of deprivation carries serious implications for health as well.
The accounting in the New England Journal of Medicine was released on the same day that the Trump administration’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency promised to keep unwinding Obama-era regulations aimed at addressing climate change.
Asked whether he believed scientists’ warnings about the consequences of human-generated climate change, Andrew Wheeler told a Senate panel that he considered climate change “a huge issue that has to be addressed globally.” But, the former coal lobbyist said, “I would not call it the biggest crisis.”
In their essay, Solomon and LaRocque acknowledge that the sprawling studies, the dire numbers and the sheer magnitude of the world’s current reliance on greenhouse-gas-emitting substances are both frightening and overwhelming. But they have overcome despair and paralysis to work with medical students on climate action, encourage organizations (including the American Medical Assn.) to divest themselves of investments in fossil-fuel companies and educate lawmakers about why climate change is a public health issue.
“Our actions matter,” the doctors wrote. “When the next generation asks us, ‘What did you do about climate change?’ we want to have a good answer.”
Corporate America Is Getting
Ready to Monetize Climate Change
Christopher Flavelle / Bloomberg
(January 22, 2019) — Bank of America Corp. worries flooded homeowners will default on their mortgages. The Walt Disney Co. is concerned its theme parks will get too hot for vacationers, while AT&T Inc. fears hurricanes and wildfires may knock out its cell towers.
The Coca-Cola Co. wonders if there will still be enough water to make Coke.
As the Trump administration rolls back rules meant to curb global warming, new disclosures show that the country’s largest companies are already bracing for its effects. The documents reveal how widely climate change is expected to cascade through the economy — disrupting supply chains, disabling operations and driving away customers, but also offering new ways to make money.
The disclosures were collected by CDP, a U.K.-based nonprofit that asks companies to report their environmental impact, including the risks and opportunities they believe climate change presents for their businesses. More than 7,000 companies worldwide filed reports for 2018, including more than 1,800 from the US
On Tuesday, CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, released letter grades for those companies that measure “how aware they are about the issue, how they’re managing it, how they’re progressing toward targets,”said Caroline Barraclough, a CDP spokeswoman.
Thirty US-based companies got an “A” grade, the most of any country; they include Apple Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Home Depot Inc. Next on the list were Japan, with 25 top-scoring companies, and France with 22.
The information companies provide to CDP about their climate risk is typically far more specific than what they include in their filings to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. And while the SEC requires companies to disclose material risks, it doesn’t ask them to address the specific threats associated with climate change.
Most of the largest US companies by market capitalization submitted information to CDP, and the vast majority say the threat is real and serious: Of the 25 companies whose submissions were reviewed by Bloomberg, 21 said they had identified “inherent climate-related risks with the potential to have a substantial financial or strategic impact” on their business.
Many of those risks related to the effects of climate change on companies’ ability to operate. One of the most commonly cited risks was not enough water.
“Many of Intel’s operations are located in semi-arid regions and water-stressed areas, such as Israel, China and the southwestern United States,” warned Intel Corp. If climate change causes longer droughts in those areas, it could “potentially lead to increased operational costs since the semiconductor manufacturing process relies on access to water.”
Water shortages could also threaten Coke’s business, the company said, because climate change “could limit water availability for the Coca-Cola system’s bottling operations.”
More frequent hurricanes and wildfires could force AT&T to spend more money on repairing damage to its network, as well as “proactively relocating equipment or additional network hardening.” The company noted that disasters cost it $627 million in 2017.
Rising temperatures are already affecting “the comfort and health and well being of customers” in its theme parks, Disney wrote. “If measures are not taken to ensure low cost alternatives for cooling and managing extreme temperatures, this will not only negatively impact our customers experience, it will also impact our ability to attract and retain visitor numbers.”
Other companies said climate change may affect their customers. Bank of America reported that 4 percent of its US real estate-secured loans are in flood zones, almost all of them residential.
“Increased flood incidence and severity could lead to our clients defaulting on their mortgage payments if, for example, flood insurance premiums become unaffordable,” the company wrote. “Clients may also find themselves in a negative equity situation due to housing values being impacted when insurance costs rise.”
Visa Inc. warns that global warming could increase global pandemics and armed conflict — problems that would in turn cause fewer people to travel.
“Any such decline in cross-border activity could impact the number of cross-border transactions we process and our foreign currency exchange activities, and in turn reduce our revenues,” Visa wrote.
Intel, Visa and Google didn’t respond to requests for comment. Bank of America and AT&T declined to comment beyond what’s in those companies’ reports.
A spokesman for Coca-Cola, Max Davis, said in a statement that the company’s goal is to reduce the carbon footprint of its beverages by one-quarter between 2010 and 2020. He didn’t respond to a question about the severity of the threat that more intense droughts pose to Coca-Cola’s business.
Climate change isn’t all downside for the largest US companies. Many of those that filed reports with CDP said they believe climate change can bolster demand for their products.
For one thing, more people will get sick. “As the climate changes, there will be expanded markets for products for tropical and weather related diseases including waterborne illness,” wrote Merck & Co. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
More disasters will make iPhones even more vital to people’s lives, Apple predicted.
“As people begin to experience severe weather events with greater frequency, we expect an increasing need for confidence and preparedness in the arena of personal safety and the well-being of loved ones,” the company wrote. Its mobile devices “can serve as a flashlight or a siren; they can provide first aid instructions; they can act as a radio; and they can be charged for many days via car batteries or even hand cranks.”
Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Living with climate change is also going to cost money, which some banks see as an opening. “Preparation for and response to climate-change induced natural disasters result in greater construction, conservation and other business activities,” Wells Fargo and Co wrote, adding that it “has the opportunity to provide financing to support these efforts.”
More disasters will mean increased sales for Home Depot, the company wrote. And as temperatures get higher, people are going to need more air conditioners. Home Depot predicted that its ceiling fans and other appliances will see “higher demand should temperatures increase over time.”
A spokeswoman for Home Depot, Christina Cornell, declined to comment beyond what was in the company’s report.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google says it expects costs and benefits from climate change. “Fluctuating socio-economic conditions due to climate change” could reduce demand for online advertising, the company reported. Yet more people might use Google Earth.
“If customers value Google Earth Engine as a tool to examine the physical changes to the Earth’s natural resources and climate, this could result in increased customer loyalty or brand value,” Google wrote. “This opportunity driver could have a positive impact on our brands.”
Climate and Cyber Risks Top Concerns in 2019