The 2020 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change was released this week. Developed by experts in the field of climate and health, this report contains key findings on challenges and opportunities in the United States, along with policy recommendations to protect health from climate change.
Critical insights from this year’s Lancet Countdown include:
- Rising Vibrio infections. Vibrio bacteria cause water- or food-borne illnesses and data shows that the number of reported infections in the U.S. is increasing. As climate change raises water temperatures, coastal waters have become more suitable environments for Vibrio bacteria. These infections can cause severe diarrhea, wound infections, and blood infections which can be fatal.
- Opportunities within agriculture. As one of the leading contributors to anthropogenic air pollution in the U.S., the agricultural system has opportunities for action within both consumption and production. Individual changes such as reduced consumption of meat and reducing food waste, as well as systemic changes like nutrient management on cropland are means through which health can be improved through changes in the food system outlined in this report.
- Zero-carbon energy addresses climate change and health inequities. Transitioning energy sources from fossil fuels has the potential to improve air quality, particularly within populations that are disproportionally impacted by air pollution, including Black, Latinx, Indigenous communities, and tribes.
- Emission-control technologies needed for natural gas. As an alternative to coal power, natural gas can lower both greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution; however, it is not emissions-free. Utilizing emission-control technologies and operating practices (i.e., leak detection and repair) can help to reduce methane emissions, which is the main component of natural gas.
The public health crises posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism in the U.S., both exacerbated by climate change, are also highlighted in the report. The report illustrates this aspect through a Compounding Crises Case Study, highlighting how a health crises can adversely affect the response toward a natural disaster. Opportunities to address climate change, therefore, are also opportunities to promote equity in health.