Kai Chen, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, studies the relationship between climate change, air pollution and human health. He applies multidisciplinary approaches in climate and air pollution science, exposure assessment and environmental epidemiology to better understand how climate change affects human health. Much of this work has been done in China, Europe, and the United States.
Why is climate change considered the biggest public health challenge of the 21st century?
KC: This summer, we have witnessed deadly extreme weather events in the United States, such as the record-breaking heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, wildfires raging in the west, and devastating hurricanes and floods in the West. ballast. All of these extreme weather events are exacerbated by climate change. But the number of direct deaths currently reported during these events is only the tip of the iceberg. Extreme temperatures and weather events can have adverse effects on a wide range of diseases, leading to increased mortality and morbidity.
At Yale, our research at the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health (YCCCH) shows that heat can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes, respiratory disease, diabetes, unintentional injuries and mental disorders. Recent studies on the global burden of the disease have found that around 2 to 5 million deaths per year can be attributed to extreme temperatures around the world.
Climate change can also have an indirect impact on our health by deteriorating water quality, air pollution, increased transmission of infectious diseases and reduced crop and nutrient yields. For example, air pollution is responsible for nearly seven million premature deaths per year. Recent research from our YCCCH also shows that air pollution is linked to increased hospital admissions for cardiovascular, kidney and mental illnesses.
Why is the Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming well below 2 ° C so important for our health?
KC: Any increase in global warming will primarily affect human health. Our research shows that heat-related morbidity and mortality is expected to increase at 1.5 ° C of warming and increase further at 2 ° C or 3 ° C. Ground-level ozone, a strong air pollutant, will increase when global warming exceeds 2 ° C, leading to an increase in the ozone-related death burden. As the climate changes, the world’s population is also aging. An aging population will dramatically amplify the projected death burden from temperature and air pollution in a warming climate.
What is the legacy of COVID-19 in the fight against climate change?
KC: A great legacy of the COVID-19 response is a leap forward towards a sustainable and healthier world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns gave us the opportunity to see clean, blue skies across the world. Our study finds that in China, the first nationwide lockdown in early 2020 significantly reduced the country’s often severe air pollution and brought substantial human health benefits in non-COVID-19 deaths. This dramatic change has given us a glimpse of what a healthier world could be like with strong clean air policies. But the reduction in air pollution and its associated health benefits during COVID-19 shutdowns are temporary. Going forward, a more sustainable and healthy society will require increased investments in clean and renewable energy, low-carbon infrastructure, active transportation and climate-friendly lifestyles.
At the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health, our Nexus Lab on Climate, Health, and Environment aims to apply multidisciplinary approaches to generate policy-relevant knowledge that can be used to advance mitigation and adaptation. to climate change in a way that promotes health and protects vulnerable populations. .
3 Essential Questions is a recurring feature that explores vital public health topics. Read previous versions of 3 Essential Questions About Cancer and Antibiotic Resistance.
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