There’s no question that global warming is already affecting global health. As natural disasters displace millions of people, higher average temperatures encourage the spread of disease. About 7 million people die annually from pollution exposure, says the World Health Organization.
But for a child born in 2019, the effects could be even more severe if global warming continues unmitigated, according to a new report from the Lancet Countdown. It’s the latest release from a group of 100 global health experts forming the climate research arm of the prestigious medical journal Lancet.
Through infancy and early childhood, the increased presence of pollution and extreme heat will threaten the lowered immune systems of growing bodies, the report says. Asthma and insect-borne diseases will be more common. These risks are already affecting children today, particularly in industrial areas, but stand to grow much worse and more widespread as climate collapse progresses.
As children reach school age, their development and ability to concentrate will be hampered by the physical effects of pollution — as well as the mental health effects of growing up in a climate-destabilized world. Outside the classroom, poor air quality will decrease opportunities to play outside and stay healthy.
These effects would disproportionately affect children in developing countries, as well as poor children in developed nations.
The report adds to years of research confirming that the effects of global warming are particularly concerning for mothers, infants, and children. Higher temperatures and more frequent heat waves threaten pregnancy, resulting in lower birth rates, more frequent premature births, and a higher likelihood of birth defects.
The Lancet Countdown has published reports since 2016. Its purpose is to encourage policymakers to keep global health at the center of discussions around climate collapse. “This is the first time we feel we can say these health impacts have arrived in full,” Nick Watts, the medical doctor who led the report, told Climate Impact News. “The more we look now, the more we see it everywhere.”
- Last month researchers at Stanford released a working paper with similar findings. By comparing hospital records from pregnant patients in three states with different climates, they found that heat waves increase pregnancy and birth complications. The risks are much higher for black women, who are more likely to live in polluted or otherwise climate-impacted areas.
- Many of the outcomes the paper highlights are already happening. In New Delhi, India, pollution has forced schools to close for days at a time, lowering learning outcomes for already-disadvantaged students.