Climate and health are linked


On Sunday 23 October 2022, thousands of citizens took to the streets of Brussels for the Climate March. This year, we’ll be making our voices heard again on Sunday 3 December! Our message: “We need to act now. Because without climate justice, our health is at risk”.

The need for change

What could be more important than to be in good health and to be able to guarantee it for oneself and one’s loved ones? With record temperatures, droughts and other climatic disasters on the increase, the short-term consequences for human lives are already dramatic. In the long term, they foreshadow an even more chaotic disaster. And yet, the directions we are taking are far from commensurate with what is at stake.

Climate and health are intimately linked. Our environment determines no less than 80% of our state of health. 5% is related to our genetic heritage, and 15% to the health system from which we benefit (WHO). So the deterioration of our air, food and water, as well as repeated thermal stresses and other climatic disasters, are all factors that have a direct impact on our health and health systems. The risks of disease, malnutrition, zoonoses and pandemics are increasing all the time. All of this at a staggering financial cost and in relation to global warming. Above all, most economists agree that implementing solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions would cost less than doing nothing.

This is because almost 99% of people breathe unhealthy levels of air pollution, largely the result of burning fossil fuels, which is driving climate change. Every year, 7 million people die from the effects of air pollution. In 2018, air pollution from fossil fuels caused $2.9 trillion in health and economic costs, or about $8 billion a day.

These figures relate to air pollution, but they are just as destabilising when they concern the management of our water and agriculture.

Well-being, climate and health take second place after profit

Our production systems have long been illogical and unsustainable. The resulting climate disruptions are already here, yet financial interests continue to far outweigh issues of climate and well-being.

Over the last few decades, more than three hundred infectious diseases have appeared. The causes are manifold: mass farming, globalisation of trade in humans and animals, modifications to living species, widespread use of pesticides, endocrine disrupters and other forms of engineering that vie with each other in inventiveness to counter an irreversible evil.

Capitalism does not save lives. This progress, however comfortable it may make everyday life, remains as vicious as it is destructive. Big industry and its lobbies block all change, taking thousands of lives. Like the agrochemical giants that contaminate our water, soil and food, causing cancer and other cognitive and respiratory diseases. In the name of profit, the current economic system is destroying the common goods of health and nature.

Think locally and act globally

It is becoming vital to focus all our resources on environmental issues, starting now, in order to counter the alarming trends that have been vainly shared by the IPCC for 32 years. We need to change the paradigm that relies on free competition and market deregulation to the detriment of human and environmental rights. After all, the right to health and healthy working conditions are fundamental rights.

“Instead of thinking globally and acting locally, we need to reverse the adage. To understand the complexity of the global health challenge and formulate effective responses, we need to understand what is happening on the ground and involve civil society“.

Daniel Tarantola, former Senior Policy Adviser to the WHO Director-General

Investments must be redirected towards production models that are sustainable for the planet and the environment. By supporting local initiatives for transition to a different economic model, based on solidarity and respect for people and the environment. By investing in sustainable, high-quality public services.

Fortunately, many concerned citizens and organisations are taking action. On Sunday 3 December, thousands of people will take to the streets of Brussels for the Climate March. The climate movement, trade unions, the peace movement, health organisations, youth movements and NGOs are calling for climate justice. Because the fight for climate justice is also a fight for peace, workers’ rights and our health.

Here is the Facebook event: See you there!