DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So scientists have been predicting for decades how climate change might hurt people's health. Well, now they say they are beginning to see actual damage. These results come from a large international collaboration with two dozen universities and U.N. agencies. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports.
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: In the past few decades, the average temperature people have experienced around the world has gone up by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That change may seem small, but Kim Knowlton at Columbia University says it has had two main consequences on health. First off, there's been a spike in heat waves worldwide. The number of vulnerable people exposed has shot up more than six times.
KIM KNOWLTON: In one particular year, 2015, there were 175 million more people exposed to extreme heat. That is not just an inconvenience. Heat kills people.
DOUCLEFF: And it exacerbates existing health problems such as heart disease and kidney failure. Then there's the rise in weather-related disasters. The study found the frequency of floods, droughts and wildfires has increased by almost 50 percent since 2000, and some of that surge is because of climate change. Knowlton says people around the world are experiencing this firsthand.
KNOWLTON: And, you know, people are suffering. Communities are hurting. People are reeling globally. And I think that's the turning point, that people are connecting the dots between climate change and health here and now.
DOUCLEFF: In terms of infectious diseases, climate change often gets blamed for causing the rise of mosquito-borne viruses like Zika, but other factors have likely contributed more to their spread, like urbanization and travel. The study, published in The Lancet journal, found a tiny link between climate change and dengue fever, another mosquito-borne virus, but not a link to any other diseases. The study also looks at what countries are doing to slow down climate change. Nick Watts at the University College London led the study. He says this is the part with a tiny, tiny sliver of hope.
NICK WATTS: That's probably the part of this that really surprised me.
DOUCLEFF: For more than two decades, he says, countries had been basically doing very little to reduce carbon emissions.
WATTS: Taken as a whole, for the last 25 years, we broadly see that progress has been woefully inadequate.
DOUCLEFF: But now there are signs the tide is turning, at least a small amount.
WATTS: Just at the last five years we've started to see an acceleration in the response to climate change, and that's something really exciting because I think we could all use a little bit of hope at the moment.
DOUCLEFF: In particular, Watts says, the use of coal around the world has slowed down and possibly even peaked.
WATTS: And we've seen it decline, and we're continuing to see it decline right the way up to 2016 when our data stops. of coal.
DOUCLEFF: Instead of coal, Watts says some countries are relying more on natural gas and are starting to swap in renewable energy sources, which not only reduce carbon emissions but also make the air healthier to breathe. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.
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