Creative focus needed to highlight impact of climate change on human health

Guy Swimer, executive creative director, McCann Health London ponders on the absence of the health impacts of climate change at COP27

When it comes to the climate crisis, most of us think of rising global temperatures, the devastating impact of droughts, severe weather patterns and more. But it is having a massive impact on our health in other troubling ways. And yet, there is not a single session at COP27 this year dedicated to our physical health.

It makes me think we are missing a key component ahead of COP27 – thinking about how creativity can help make our health part of the conversation when it comes to the climate crisis – especially as it seems just reading increasingly alarming studies and statistics are no longer enough. Of course, no ad campaign can save the world; but I believe it is important that we must all use all our skills and abilities to raise awareness about the major effect that climate change will have on our own health.

A new study by 100 experts found 53,000 excess deaths were recorded in the EU alone in the July heatwave this year. And the climate emergency is causing rises in infectious diseases like dengue fever, and increased risk from neurological disorders. The report also confirms fossil fuel pollution is also increasing the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, diabetes and, concerningly, adverse pregnancy outcomes also. Yet despite all the evidence, we’ve not managed to put health on the COP27 agenda to be discussed, debated or, more importantly, to inspire creative thinking around the issue.

The impact of global temperatures on our health is something we became acutely aware of last year while working with Epilepsy Climate Change (EpiCC), a research division of charity the Epilepsy Society. We heard how extreme heat exacerbates neurological conditions like epilepsy, by ramping up the occurrence and severity of seizures and increases the prevalence of strokes.

So we brought together leading doctors, experts, scientists with hemp manufacturers, wind power and sustainable packaging plants to create the eight-page sustainable EnvironMental Issue newspaper – created using a process that generated ink from live algae, which actually removed C02 from the air as it was produced. It was distributed to delegates at COP26 and available online via a low carbon generating website.

If all black ink used currently globally were produced the way we made The EnvironMental Issue it could save 17 million trees a year. To be involved with such a collaborative and innovative approach to raise awareness of a little-highlighted impact of the climate emergency was an eye-opener; it led to an MP raising a question in the UK’s House Of Commons about the issue, and securing the government’s commitment to do more about it. 

Nearly one in six of the world’s population suffers from a neurological disorder and the number of people affected by or dying from them has been increasing globally over the last 25 years as the planet has heated up. These people could be our family, friends and loved ones. And this is just one small element of the impact the climate emergency is having on the health of people globally. 

Perhaps a little less conversation and a little more creativity is needed if we are to raise awareness of the disastrous impact the climate crisis is having on our health, not just those with neurological conditions, and get the issue on everyone’s agenda – starting with this year’s COP27.

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