HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Health and Petroleum

Posted on | November 28, 2007 | No Comments

Yes, there’s a link between the two and it’s worth thinking about

Anyone who has followed my Health Politics programs over the last few years knows that I’ve done a lot of research on our most precious resource — water — and how it affects virtually every aspect of our lives. In the process of that research, I’ve learned that not everything is as it seems on the surface when it comes to our natural resources.

And now, we have a good reason to look closely at another resource: oil. The global clamor over oil is as loud as it’s ever been. From environmentalists to politicians to economists, it seems everyone has an opinion on what to do about this rapidly dwindling resource.

We know oil affects many aspects of our lives. But seldom do we discuss oil in the context of health. Is it time for us to start?

The answer is yes. Petroleum is one of the primary building blocks of human medicines – from aspirin to antibiotics. Medical supplies, such as bandages, syringes, catheters, oxygen masks, surgical instruments, radiological dyes, hearing aids and many more, consume petroleum in production.

Health workers would have difficulty getting to you, and you to them, absent petroleum to carry us along. Imagine a world in which emergency vehicles were halted and life-saving helicopters and aircraft were grounded.

On the other hand, a world with scare petroleum would mean a cleaner environment, more walking and use of bicycles, and a generally fitter population. There are clear examples of rather immediate positive health impacts with decreased auto congestion. And restrained use of petroleum would result in a greater reliance on local food production, pushing America’s diet closer to “fresh and green.”

On balance, though, the impact of scarce petroleum on overall health care – at least until we develop alternatives – is troubling. Enough so that public health leaders have begun to call for serious scenario-planning and rapid-response capabilities, similar to the exercises we’ve gone through for bird flu and terrorist attacks. At the very least, we need to look at these issues with greater concern than we have in the past.

To learn more, watch this week’s video (embedded with this blog post) or read the full transcript of this week’s program, below. And, as always, please share your own thoughts about petroleum’s impact.

Mike Magee

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