Anthropogenic global warming, interacting with social and other environmental determinants, constitutes a profound health risk. This paper reports a comprehensive literature review for 1989–2013 (inclusive), the first 25 years in which this topic appeared in scientific journals. It explores the extent to which articles have identified potentially catastrophic, civilization-endangering health risks associated with climate change. Methods:
PubMed and Google Scholar were primarily used to identify articles which were then ranked on a three-point scale. Each score reflected the extent to which papers discussed global systemic risk. Citations were also analyzed. Results
: Of 2143 analyzed papers 1546 (72%) were scored as one. Their citations (165,133) were 82% of the total. The proportion of annual papers scored as three was initially high, as were their citations but declined to almost zero by 1996, before rising slightly from 2006. Conclusions
: The enormous expansion of the literature appropriately reflects increased understanding of the importance of climate change to global health. However, recognition of the most severe, existential, health risks from climate change was generally low. Most papers instead focused on infectious diseases, direct heat effects and other disciplinary-bounded phenomena and consequences, even though scientific advances have long called for more inter-disciplinary collaboration.
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