Fewer than half of Americans think climate change is a right-here, right-now problem. So it’s critical that a new report on the impact of climate change is about the present as much as the future. The topline results: 157 million more people experienced a heat wave in 2016 than in 2000—12.3 million Americans. That heat and the injuries that can come from it cost the world 153 billion hours of labor—1.1 billion in the US. The geographic range of the mosquitoes that carry dengue fever, Zika, malaria, and chikungunya is spreading. So is the range of the bacterium that causes cholera. Global crop yield is going down.
You’re like, old news! But you might be thinking of last week’s apocalyptic climate-is-broken report. That was volume 2 of the fourth National Climate Assessment. Today’s red alert is the 2018 Lancet Countdown, a British medical journal’s annual accounting of how climate change affects public health.
Some confusion here would be understandable. What both reports have in common (along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s October report on a 1.5-degree planetary temperature increase) is immediacy. These reports are designed to show climate change happening now, today—and to actually spur people to do something about it. How? Show them how climate change affects them personally, and describe those effects in ways that transcend their politics. Global warming is causing “present-day changes,” the Lancet report says. On a telephone briefing for reporters, Renee Salas, director of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and the lead author of the report’s US chapter, described seeing more patients with asthma attacks and heat stress. “Viewing climate change as a public health emergency is literally second nature,” Salas said.