Humanity’s fight to curb climate change is failing in dozens of ways with people getting sicker and dying as the world warms and the fossil fuels causing it get more subsidies, according to two global reports issued Tuesday.
The health journal Lancet’s annual Countdown on climate and health found more people, especially the elderly, dying because of heat waves in recent years and it projects that will soar as temperatures keep rising. The international team of doctors, scientists and economists looked at 47 measurements, many outside health, to diagnose a sick Earth, emphasizing harms they attribute directly to the fossil fuel industry.
Earlier in the day, the World Resources Institute, Climate Action Tracker, the Bezos Earth Fund and others issued their State of Climate Action report, which found the world off track in 41 of 42 important measurements. It said six indicators are heading in the wrong direction, including fossil fuel subsidies. Also Tuesday, the United States government issued its more than 2,200-page National Climate Assessment that looked at hundreds of measurements for what warming is doing to America.
Worldwide heat deaths for people over 65 were 85% higher in the last 10 years compared to 1991 to 2000, the study found. Researchers compared the death increase to computer simulations for the same population but in a world that hadn’t warmed and found they could attribute most of those deaths to climate change, not population growth.
In the U.S., heat deaths for the elderly increased 88% in the past five years compared to 2000 to 2004 with most of that attributable to climate change, the study found. There were 23,200 elderly heat deaths in 2022, the report found.
“We are already seeing climate change claiming lives and livelihoods in every part of the world,” said Lancet Countdown Executive Director Marina Romanello. “However, these impacts that we’re seeing today could be just an early symptom of a very dangerous future unless we tackle climate change urgently.”
Romanello said people self-reporting hunger because of heat waves and drought has also soared, adding “this could be just an early glimpse into what we now know could be a very dangerous future.”
“These findings are stark and — coming from the most thorough annual scientific assessment at the nexus of climate change and health — should be considered accurate,” said Dr. Jonathan Patz, former director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who wasn’t part of the study. “Worrisome is our sluggish response to depart from fossil fuels, which the authors show offers enormous immediate health benefits.”
Report authors directly blasted the fossil fuel industry, comparing it to tobacco companies, and the banks that loaned them money.
“All our indicators on the fossil fuel industry are extremely relevant because this is an industry that is actually killing people in large numbers and making them ill in even larger numbers,” said report co-author Paul Ekins, an economics professor at the University College of London.
The Lancet report highlighted 68 countries handing out more than $300 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel companies in 2020. The report from the World Resources Institute and others highlighted fossil fuel subsidies as one of six indicators that are not only off track, but going in the wrong direction.
“Fossil fuel consumption subsidies in particular reached an all-time high last year, over $1 trillion, driven by the war in Ukraine and the resulting energy price spikes,” said report co-author Joe Thwaites of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group.
Fossil fuel subsidies are not only going in the wrong direction, but they’re seeing one of the biggest changes in indicators compared to past years, said study co-author Kelly Levin, science and data director at the Bezos Earth Fund.
Five other categories — the carbon intensity of global steel production, how many miles passenger cars drive, electric buses sold, loss of mangrove forests and amount of food waste — are going in the wrong direction, the State of Climate Action report said.
The only bright spot is that global sales of electric passenger vehicles are now on track to match what’s needed — along with many other changes — to limit future warming to just another couple tenths of a degree, that report found.
“This is not the time for tinkering around the edges, but it’s instead the time for radical decarbonization of all sectors of the economy,” Levin said.
Levin’s report looks at what’s needed in several sectors of the global economy — power, transportation, buildings, industry, finance and forestry — to fit in a world that limits warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times, the goal the world adopted at Paris in 2015. The globe has already warmed about 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the mid 19th century.
When trying to change an economy, the key is to start with “low-hanging fruit, i.e., the sectors of the economy that are easiest to transition and give a big bang for your buck,” said Dartmouth climate scientist Justin Mankin, who isn’t part of the report. But he said the report shows “we’re really struggling to pick the low-hanging fruit.”
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