The Fossil Fuel Industry Has Led to a Massive Health Crisis — Here’s How

Plumes of smoke rise from chimneys

Doctors say companies are chasing profits despite shocking effects on global health.

Doctors are blaming the fossil fuel industry for the world’s worst health problems, according to a study published on Tuesday in The Lancet. 

An astronomic toll on health

Among the study’s key findings, it says that climate change is undermining “every dimension of global health monitored, increasing the fragility of the global systems that health depends on, and increasing the vulnerability of populations to the coexisting geopolitical, energy, and cost-of-living crises.”

The report, which included input from nearly 100 authors, found that climate change is impairing food security worldwide, with extreme heat connected to 98 million cases of hunger globally. Heat-related deaths have increased 68% since 2000, and changes in temperature and weather are increasing the transmissibility of diseases carried by mosquitoes.

Even our mental health has been affected, with “strong evidence that climate change is associated with more depression, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety,” according to Natasha K. DeJarnett, a lead author of the U.S. policy brief, per NBC.

Health systems have failed to adapt

Global health systems have failed to adapt sufficiently to climate change, leaving them vulnerable to the changes wrought by rising temperatures and harmful emissions.

The study warns that addressing areas of crisis in isolation only serves to aggravate problems in other areas, pointing to the effect of the Covid-19 response. This, it says, has not delivered the green recovery advocated for by the health community, and is in fact “aggravating climate change-related health risks.” The report claims that less than a third of the $3·11 trillion allocated to COVID-19 economic recovery is likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or air pollution and that the net effect is “likely to increase emissions.”

Geopolitical instability is also contributing to the crisis. As countries seek alternatives to Russian fuel and gas amid the restrictions that have come about thanks to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, many are still favoring fossil fuels — with some even resorting to burning coal. The awful health effects of doing so have been in evidence for decades.

Change starts at the top

“The burning of fossil fuels is creating a health crisis that I can’t fix by the time I see patients in my emergency department,” said Dr. Renee Salas who contributed to the report, according to NBC. “Fossil fuel companies are making record profits while my patients suffer from their downstream health harms.” 

The report flags fossil fuel companies’ efforts to subvert “efforts to deliver a low carbon, healthy, liveable future” and the governments who subsidize them, calling for world leaders to take a more health-focused approach before the already dire situation is aggravated further.