Post by Aldo Mussi, Snr Lecturer in Health Promotion/Public Health firstname.lastname@example.org
During the summer months in Britain, health concerns in the popular media often focus on familiar topics such as sunburn or food poisoning –which is fine, as far as it goes. But it tends to overlook a much bigger threat to the health of the whole population : climate change.
‘What?’ I hear you say, ‘How is that a health problem? And the summer’s aren’t always hot anyway!’.
Actually, public health experts now recognise that “the potential health effects of climate change are immense” (1). This is partly due to problems from raised temperatures, such as heatwave deaths (mainly of vulnerable people who needn’t be vulnerable) and changes in infection patterns – and the NHS has already had to start preparing for such challenges.
Climate change is not just about ‘getting hotter & sunnier’, however: a big threat is the more unpredictable and extreme weather we are creating, whether it be storms or flooding patterns which are different to those of the past. That’s without looking at the early deaths we cause (as big a problem as heart disease) from air pollution, especially around busy roads during still, summer days.
And I say ‘created’ by us, because it is now 95% certain that climate change is real and being accelerated by humans changing the balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – it’s official (though often neglected), and health experts show us what needs to be done in documents such as the NHS’s ‘Saving Carbon, Improving Health’ (2).
So what’s the solution? Relying on individuals to change their behaviour (like using a washing line instead of a tumble drier, or driving their car less) will only make a modest difference – though it’s a good start. The main things changing our climate are energy and transport from fossil fuels, a meat-heavy food system, and other big industry factors.
It’s encouraging that public health professionals are waking up to the threat, and our Public Health students here at Birmingham City University have become conversant with it as a health issue at least as important as things like diabetes – so there is hope for the future.
But the new government’s minister for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, has a lot of work to catch up on, given the failure in recent years to tackle the issue – and it’s worrying that she has already overseen a reduction in support for renewable energy generation, while continuing with backing for the fracking of damaging shale gas.
Time is short for Rudd, and for all of us – so what can we do as individuals, apart from encouraging her?
Well, it’s summertime, so enjoy it: maybe by walking in it more rather than driving.
- Costello, A et al (2009) Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change, The Lancet, Vol 373, No.9676, p1693-1733. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(09)60935-1/fulltext
- NHS Sustainable Development Unit (2009) Saving Carbon, Improving Health’ http://www.sduhealth.org.uk/policy-strategy/engagement-resources/nhs-carbon-reduction-strategy-2009.aspx