Maybe you live in Ohio, far away from rising seas. Maybe you live in Canada, nowhere near a blazing desert. You might think climate change isn’t your problem, at least not yet. But maybe today we can change your mind.
The medical journal The Lancet just released its annual report on climate change and human health. A work of over 100 experts—doctors, climatologists, economists, and more—the massive study looks at 41 indicators, including extreme weather like droughts, energy trends like fuel use, and agricultural impacts like changing growing conditions.
The collective implications are ugly: A child born today, the authors note, could live in a world that’s four degrees warmer than in preindustrial times. “We have no idea what that looks like from a public health perspective, but we know it is catastrophic,” said Nick Watts, executive director of Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, during a press conference announcing the findings. “We know that it has the potential to undermine the last 50 years of gains in public health and overwhelm the health systems we rely on.”
It’s not too late to reverse some of these trends or dodge the worst outcomes. “The challenge we face now is how to make it personal—how do we make people understand that it’s about them, and they can do something,” said former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, now director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at Harvard. “I want them to know that climate change isn’t a lost cause. I want them to know that they can demand policymakers to take specific actions that will not just reduce the threat of climate change, but be opportunities for clear, immediate investment in public health today.”
Understand the problem, and we can better see the solutions. Below are 9 key graphs from the new Lancet report that best capture the crisis and what it means for the collective health of humanity.
Scorched by Heatwaves
Climate change is making heatwaves more extreme. This has been particularly apparent in Europe, where multiple countries set temperature records this past summer. These events are particularly dangerous for the elderly, who often live alone in apartments that until recent years didn’t need air conditioning, but that now easily overheat. A heatwave “exposure event” in this graph is one heatwave experienced by one person over 65. In 2018 there were 220 million heatwave exposures globally, which broke the previous record of 209 million in 2015.