Top 10 Environment and Health Stories of 2022

Environmental stories are often important to health. The environment we live in impacts the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the shelter we are housed in, and so many other essential parts of daily living.

Key takeaways:
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    A healthy environment is essential for good health.
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    2022 saw a mix of positive and negative news headlines for environment and health.
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    The impacts of climate change on health vary globally.

The environment will be an evermore important story for health as we navigate environmental and climate changes. These were the top ten environmental health stories from 2022:

1. United States to produce more renewable than coal energy

For the first time in history, the United States is expected to produce more renewable power than coal power in 2022. In the first three quarters of 2022, renewable energy sources were responsible for more American power than coal.

Renewable energy sources include wind and solar power generation. Coal power is generated by burning coal, which releases carbon and toxins into the air. Coal burning contributes to climate change, causing indirect health effects. Coal burning also contributes to asthma, heart damage, and other health conditions directly.

2. Costly hurricane season

The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season included 14 named storms. While the number of storms was relatively average, or even lower than some of the last few years, the costs of damage were amongst the highest on record. These storms included notable and sizeable storms such as Ian, Fiona, and Nicole.

As climate change progresses, the likelihood for larger and more intense storms increases. Intensity may refer to stronger winds or more precipitation, which both increase damage and risks to health. In the context of health, these costs negatively impact mental health, safe water and sanitation, access to healthy foods and places to cook them, and more.

3. European Union rules for stricter greenhouse emissions

In late 2022, the European Union negotiated a tentative deal to drastically reduce carbon emissions across the continent. The deal focuses primarily on a carbon pricing model, reducing the allowable emissions for households, corporations, and others by making polluting too expensive to continue. The tentative deal has a number of phases set to start as soon as 2024, then ramping up from there.

Reducing carbon emissions through a carbon pricing model will decrease contributions to climate change. The aim is to slow, and eventually maybe even stop climate change. Climate change can impact the health of nearly all physiological systems in the body, including cardiac, respiratory, and neurological systems.

4. Wildfires were surprisingly quiet in 2022

While the last several years have been characterized by large, catastrophic wildfires on several continents, the 2022 wildfire season was relatively quiet. For example, in California, fewer acres burned in 2022 than any year since 2019.

Wildfires pose substantial risk to health as habitats are destroyed and biodiversity is potentially lost. The direct health impacts of wildfires can include burns and injury, exacerbated respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (commonly know as COPD), mental health challenges, and even death.

5. COP27 endorses “Loss and Damage Fund”

The United Nations Climate Change Summit, Conference of the Parties (COP) 27, reached a landmark deal at their 2022 meeting in November. A revolutionary fund, called the “Loss and Damage Fund” for vulnerable countries, approves funding to combat and recover from climate disasters for some countries. This fund will support countries most negatively impacted by climate change to protect the health and livelihoods of populations.

6. Water shortages in many countries

Water is an essential resource for life. Water scarcity refers to insufficient quantities of fresh water for drinking and activities of daily living.

In many countries such as India and Lebanon, the water supply is very stressed. In addition to the immediate health impacts of lack of access to water, such as dehydration and sanitation, chronic water stress can also increase the risk for conflict.

7. Brazilian President makes deforestation pledge

The President-elect of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, made a big splash at his first COP last month, pledging a fight against deforestation. Upon taking power, Lula da Silva has committed to working with states across Brazil to reduce deforestation in the Amazon.

Deforestation poses health risks as forests sequester massive amounts of carbon and protect essential biodiversity.

8. Food insecurity worsening amid climate crisis

Climate change is one major element contributing to global food insecurity worsening in 2022. Other contributing factors include the crisis in Ukraine and the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Climate change contributes to food insecurity and risk of mass starvation due to changing seasonal patterns, droughts and flooding, and temperature changes. Each of these climate change-related impacts can affect the ability to grow food in certain regions.

9. China building the world’s largest wind farm

In another good news story for the environment and health in 2022, China has announced plans to build the world’s largest wind farm. The wind farm is set to be built in the Taiwan Strait. The plans include building thousands of turbines. It will produce approximately 43.3 gigawatts of power, or enough to power 4.3 billion LED lights.

With increased renewable energy sources like this wind farm, there is a decreased reliance on fossil fuel energy. More renewable energy is always good news for health.

10. Monsoon flooding in Pakistan causes disease outbreaks

Following unprecedented monsoon-driven flooding in Pakistan, a health emergency resulted. Outbreaks of diarrheal diseases, skin infections, and more have been reported as a result of the flooding.

With increased frequency and intensity of storms as a result of climate change, these types of disasters become more and more likely. Further impacts of storms such as these include damaged health infrastructure and disruptions to available health services.

A look forward at 2023

As has been the case in 2022, we can expect to see environment and health stories spread the gamut of positive and negative outcomes. This spectrum has been characteristic of more than a decade of climate-health news.

Positive stories might include exciting technological innovations to sequester carbon from the air we breathe, or victories in the court of law that prohibit some environmentally taxing practices. Negative stories might include climate disasters that cause illness and injury or longer-term disasters like food insecurity exacerbated by droughts.

The biggest unknown for 2023 isn’t which single story will be the biggest environmental health story of the year. The biggest unknown is the overall balance of positive stories against the more negative ones.

The environment is an essential component of health. Therefore, good health globally is reliant on a healthy environment.

As we look toward the future, we see climate change progressing and its negative impact on human health. But we also see that good news stories have the potential to shift the course we are on.

Action against climate change is one of the most important responses we can make for health into the future.

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