INTERACTION. More cases of asthma and cardiovascular diseases, a worse situation for pollen allergy sufferers and more deaths during heatwaves. These are some of the health-related consequences that can be expected as the climate grows warmer. But there is still time to stop the trend – and you can make a difference.
These were some of the main messages of the lecture ‘Klimatet förändras – vad betyder det för vår hälsa?’ (‘The climate is changing – what does this mean for our health?’) held at the Gothenburg City Library earlier this spring, which you can now watch here.
“If we can keep global warming to 1.5 degrees, we will save more than a million lives each year worldwide by 2050, just by reducing air pollution,” says Sofia Hammarstrand, one of three speakers during the evening. “Researchers have calculated that the value of the health benefits is about twice as high as the political cost of implementing a climate transition.”
The link between the health of the planet and our own health
Sofia is a physician, a doctoral student in occupational and environmental medicine at the Institute of Medicine, and chair of the Hospital Physicians’ Climate Group at the Swedish Medical Association. She has previously won awards for her commitment to climate issues and sustainable healthcare.
“Climate change is already resulting in many consequences, both globally and in Sweden,” she explains. “In summer 2018, around 700 people died in Sweden as a result of high temperatures, and accident and emergency departments treated more patients with heat-related illnesses. We have also seen an increase in tick-borne diseases and vibriosis.”
Vibriosis is caused by a bacterium found in fresh, salt and brackish water that multiplies when the water remains above 20°C for an extended period of time. The bacterium can infect wounds, and in the worst cases can cause blood poisoning.
“A hotter, drier climate also leads to a higher proportion of airborne particles. We know that increased air pollution leads to more cardiovascular and lung diseases. There is also evidence of links to effects on foetal development and childhood allergies. Children are one of the groups who are most affected by climate change. And yet they have done the least to create this situation.”
Species decline and extreme weather events
Deliang Chen, Professor in Physical Meteorology and coordinating lead author of the UN’s Sixth Assessment Report, also gave a lecture. He talked about the research behind what we know about climate change – and that this is due to human impact. He also spoke about the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“The IPCC doesn’t carry out its own research – it has been tasked with summarising the current knowledge situation,” he says. “The latest report was authored by a team of 234 researchers and experts who responded to over 78,000 comments from governments, researchers and experts around the world. So it’s backed by an incredibly large body of work.”
He also spoke about the future consequences of climate change, such as increased risks of water shortages, flooding and food supply problems. If warming reaches 3 degrees, some parts of Sweden are expected to lose 25–50% of their biodiversity.
Warming will also lead to more extreme weather events. Extreme precipitation, heat and drought which currently occur every ten years will become more frequent as the climate grows warmer.
“This affects people in poorer parts of the world the worst, even though they have contributed the least to the problem,” adds Professor Chen. “A great deal is now being done to create change, but it is a case of too little, too slow. The next ten years are critical if we are to achieve the 1.5 degree target.”
How your diet affects the climate
We can all influence climate change via the choices we make in our daily lives, such as how we travel, what we consume and the food we eat. Anna Winkvist is a Professor in Nutrition at the Institute of Medicine, and researches how we can eat in a healthier, more climate-smart way.
“The production and consumption of food accounts for around one third of global greenhouse gas emissions,” she explains. “The way we Swedes produce and consume food currently exceeds the planet’s resources by a factor of three to six times, depending on which parameter we look at.”
So what we eat and how much food we throw away has a huge impact. Based on how we eat in Sweden, red meat has the greatest environmental impact, followed by dairy products and non-alcoholic drinks. If you want to eat in a healthier, more climate-smart way, you should reduce the amount of meat you eat – especially red meat.
“It’s also good to eat more legumes and seasonal fruit and vegetables, consume moderate amounts of eggs and dairy products, and choose water to drink with meals,” adds Professor Winkvist.
Everyone can do their part
As part of her lecture, Professor Winkvist also presented exciting research into how healthy, climate-smart food affects how long we live and the pioneering EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health initiative, which has investigated how we need to eat in order to stay within the planet’s limits.
“In the past, it has been said that humans find it hard to adapt. But in the wake of the pandemic and the electricity crisis, I don’t think we can say that anymore. In Sweden, we reduced our electricity consumption during the winter by everyone doing their part. I think we can look at this in the same way. If lots of people make small changes that they feel comfortable with, it will have a big impact on all of us.”
TEXT AND PHOTO: KARIN ALLANDER
Watch the videos (in Swedish)
- Deliang Chen: ‘Vad vet vi om framtidens klimat?’ (‘What do we know about the climate of the future?’) (14:52)
- Sofia Hammarstrand: ‘Hur påverkar klimatförändringarna vår hälsa?’ (‘How does climate change affect our health?’) (18:51)
- Anna Winkvist: ‘Hur kan jag äta mer nyttigt och klimatsmart?’ (‘How can I eat in a healthier, more climate-smart way?’) (25:30)
- The full lecture ‘Klimatet förändras – vad betyder det för vår hälsa?’ (‘The climate is changing – what does this mean for our health?’) (1:10:12)