Although the UNFCCC negotiators express concerns about climate change’s impact on human health, there is little in the treaty’s governance structure to induce specific action on the issue. A 2014 round up on NPR this week singled out the contribution of Tony McMichael, an Australian doctor and epidemiologist who said of dealing with climate change impacts before his death this year that “it’s likely to be an extraordinary century and we’re going to have to have our wits about us to get through it.”
In 1993, McMichael led the health team on the IPCC’s second report, AR2. That same year, he published the first scholarly book devoted to the health effects of climate change, Planetary Overload: Global Environmental Change and the Health of the Human Species. During his career, he published more than 300 scientific papers describing how increasingly erratic weather and climate (think heat waves, ice storms, droughts, floods, and disease-carrying insects expanding their habitat) can cause health problems. Recently McMichael’s work has inspired research on the mental health effects of climate change, for example on rates of anxiety and depression among people in both drought-stricken and flooded areas.