The deterioration that climate change is producing in people’s health is increasingly palpable and encompasses more and more parts of human life. The climate crisis and its most palpable consequences, such as extreme heat waves, are damaging the mental health of citizens: eco anxiety, hopelessness and worsening mood expand with the advance of the climate crisis, according to the macro study Lancet Countdown published this Thursday.
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“All the impacts are getting worse and no one is safe,” explains study lead author Marina Romanello. “The 44 indicators analyzed indicate a relentless increase in the health impacts of climate change.” The work, in which 43 universities and national agencies have been involved, reveals how the conditions for the spread of infectious diseases even in unknown latitudes are gaining ground, deaths attributable to heat peaks increase or exposure to the damage they cause increases droughts and forest fires.
Now, in addition, it has been shown, for example, that episodes of extreme temperatures are associated with “affective disturbances and an increase in hospital admissions related to mental health and even suicides”, concludes the work.
“Extremely widespread” effects
“We have verified, after reviewing 6,000 million geolocated tweets in 40,000 locations and one million individuals daily, that negative expressions increase during heat wave days,” explains Romanello. “This tells us that exposure to the heat wave worsens the affective state, which reflects that there is an impact on mental health.” In short, it offers “a glimpse” of this influence. “We are sure that there is impact, but it is still very difficult to measure it so we need research,” concludes the director of the Lancet Countdown, Anthony Costello.
Costello confirms that “Mental mental health effects are extremely widespread.” These effects include “eco-anxiety among young people or a feeling of hopelessness that affects many groups: people who lose their homes due to a flood or rising sea, those displaced by severe drought or older people vulnerable to heat waves. … ”
Without going any further, last September, the University of Bath (United Kingdom) published a large survey of 10,000 young people between 16 and 25 years old and ten different countries in which almost half confessed that the climate “inaction” of governments it was translated into an anxiety that conditioned them in their life daily. Over 50% answered that they felt scared, sad, anxious, angry, powerless, or even guilty.
“It is surprising to hear how so many young people around the world feel betrayed by those who are supposed to protect them,” explained Dr. Liz Marks, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, when reviewing the consultation data. It was September 2021. Only a month later, this Wednesday, the UN has detected that world governments still plan to increase the production of fossil fuels by 2030 well above what the Paris Agreement allows.
The American Psychiatric Association, in explaining the influence of climate change on mental health, describes that phenomena exacerbated by global warming, such as floods and prolonged droughts, have been associated with high levels of anxiety and depression.
Severe weather events have also been linked to increases in aggressive behaviors and domestic violence. “Experiencing these episodes can sometimes lead to depression or post-traumatic stress. Living in an extreme heat wave can lead to an increase in alcohol consumption, to overcome stress, and in the income of people with a mental illness”, affirm the psychiatrists Americans.
In addition, researchers have detected that “despair” in the face of the climate crisis translates into a kind of demoralization: “The conviction that personal actions cannot affect climate change.” This implies that, despite being clear that this phenomenon is a threat, little action is taken to reverse that threat.
“It is not a problem of the future but current”
Epidemiologist and Professor of Global Health at the University of Washington, Kristie L. Ebie, warns that “the health impacts are so many and so complex that the models cannot offer a precise or exact figure on mortality, but the total impact it is much bigger than we can estimate. For everyone, not only for our children. And it is right now when it is affecting. It is not a future problem but a current problem. ”
Among the damages that the Lancet Countdown describes – in what it defines as a “red code for the future of health” – the report points to the expansion of infections, thermal spikes and air pollution.
Disease-spreading pathogens find better climatic conditions to survive (and infect humans). The possibility of dengue, chikungunya or Zika outbreaks is increasing in the highest-income countries, including Europe, the work says. Also the arrival of malaria in mountainous and cold areas. In October 2018, Spain confirmed two cases of autochthonous dengue transmitted, almost certainly, by tiger mosquitoes, an exotic species that has become established due to changing environmental conditions.
In northern Europe and the USA, the conditions for the proliferation of bacteria that cause gastroenteritis or sepsis are 56% better than in 1980. In impoverished countries, these infection dynamics jeopardize the efforts that have been developed to go controlling them.
Regarding heat, the data indicate that the most vulnerable people, the elderly and children, face this danger more frequently. In 2020, the number of adults over 65 who suffered a heat wave totaled 3,100 million heat days, almost 7% more than the average of the previous decade. Europe is the weakest region in the face of increased heat.
In Spain, although the summer as a whole has been “normal” in the Iberian Peninsula, according to the seasonal analysis of the State Meteorological Agency (not so in the archipelagos where it was warm or very hot), a heat wave was experienced especially intense between August 11 and 16. The Agency has described that “both the maximum and minimum temperatures took extraordinarily high values, exceeding 40 ⁰C in much of the peninsular territory and in both archipelagos.” In addition, between July 10 and 12 there was a peak of extreme heat (not a wave).
Furthermore, the study states that 3.3 million deaths in 2019 could be attributed to the finest microparticles, PM 2.5, of human origin that pollute the air. “A third of them come from the burning of fossil fuels,” they point out. The most developed countries are the ones that suffer the most from this aggression. An analysis of the universities of Harvard, Birmingham and London College estimated that burden at “eight million premature deaths.”
It is also striking that up to 60% of the countries have increased the number of days they were exposed to high or extreme risk of forest fires “without yet quantifying the threat of smoke from these fires, which affect much more population and have greater consequences. for health “, clarifies the work. This summer, the vicious circle that links climate change, large fires and greenhouse gas emissions has become clear.
Anthony Costello warns policymakers and business leaders that “failing to mitigate and adapt to climate change will inevitably lead to serious effects on people’s health.” To which epidemiologist Kristie Ebie adds that “countries must mitigate the climate crisis to benefit the population as well as the planet.”