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Exploring Human Potential

Global Warming. What Is The Physician’s Responsibility?

Posted on | September 27, 2014 | 1 Comment

 
NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory
High Resolution Image with more information about the graphic

Mike Magee

In 1997, Gro Brundtland, then head of the WHO defined health as “human potential”. In doing so, she broadened the sphere of interest of health policy experts on a macro level and challenged physicians on a micro level. In essense she united for the first time patient health and planetary health.

Since that time, we have seen a continued battle and debate in the public space between the overwhelming majority of scientists who has raised the alarm over the self-reinforcing cycle of global warming, and a much smaller but highly vocal segment of the scientific community, who – often with the support of dollars from energy related corporations – have denied the challenge we and the planet face.

In an article this week in JAMA, physicians are for the first time directly challenged to educate their patients regarding the coming health risks associated with global warming.  The authors review the evidence related to this impending crisis and come to this conclusion: “Evidence over the past 20 years indicates that climate change can be associated with adverse health outcomes. Health care professionals have an important role in understanding and communicating the related potential health concerns and the cobenefits from reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

The article in part notes:

1. “Consensus is substantial that human behavior contributes to climate change: 97% of climatologists maintain that climate change is caused by human activities, particularly fossil fuel combustion and tropical deforestation.”

2. “ About half of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions between 1750 and 2010 occurred since 1970. The increase in greenhouse gas emissions has been greatest in the last decade (2.2% per year) compared with 1.3% per year between 1970 and 2000.5 Emissions continue to increase; 2011 emissions exceeded those in 2005 by 43%.”

3. “ Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and industrial processes accounted for approximately 78% of the total increase from 1970-2010.”

4. “ The trend toward decarbonization (cleaner fuels) of the world’s energy since the 1970s has been reversed by increased coal combustion since 2000.”

5. “ Climate change is happening: the relationship of heat-waves, floods, and droughts along with adverse health outcomes is evident.7,8 Two broad approaches are needed to protect public health: mitigation, or major reductions in carbon emissions, corresponding to primary prevention; and adaptation, or steps to anticipate and reduce threats, corresponding to secondary prevention (or public health preparedness).”

6. Key messages for doctors and patients include:

“Heat-related disorders, including heat stress and economic consequences of reduced work capacity.”

“Respiratory disorders, including those exacerbated by fine particulate pollutants, such as asthma and allergic diseases.”

“Infectious diseases, including vectorborne diseases, such as Lyme disease, and water-borne diseases, such as childhood gastrointestinal diseases.”

“Food production, including reduced crop yields and an increase in plant diseases.”

“Mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression that are associated with natural disasters.”

7. Mitigating climate change could yield health benefits:

“Economic advantages of reducing fossil fuel combustion and improving air quality, including a reduction in chronic diseases and their associated health care costs, and economic opportunities associated with development of alternative forms of energy.”

“Infrastructure improvements that reduce greenhouse emissions could also lead to increased physical activity that would be associated with a reduction in various chronic diseases.”

8. Heat related death and disability are understated: “The most direct effect of a warming planet is heat stress and associated disorders. Heat-related deaths are routinely attributed to causes such as cardiac arrest without citing temperature as the underlying factor. Thus, the actual death toll attributable to heat is greater than certified on death certificates… High-risk groups include elderly persons, those living in poverty or social isolation, and those with underlying mental illness.”

9. Global warming will continue to reduce productivity: “Using industrial and military guidelines, Dunne et al estimated that ambient heat stress has reduced global population-weighted labor capacity by 10% in summer’s peak over the past few decades. Projected reduction may double by 2050 and may be even larger in the latter half of the 21st century.”

10. Additional death and disability secondary to food scarcity, respiratory disease and waterborne disease in all age groups and traumatic, disaster related injuries is to be expected. The mental health implications of these stressors are currently being underreported.

How can health professionals help?

“ Effective communication may shift knowledge, attitudes, and behavior toward reducing the risks of climate change. Research indicates several principles of effective climate communication that closely resemble those used in health. Themes include 2-way communication, gearing messages to the audience, limiting use of fear-based messages,  issuing simple lucid messages repeated often from trusted sources, and making health-promoting choices easy and appealing.”

“Health may be a compelling frame for communication about climate change, reflecting views that change threatens health. Although further research is needed to define the role of health in climate communication, practical communication resources are becoming available, implying an important role for health care professionals.”

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee

Comments

One Response to “Global Warming. What Is The Physician’s Responsibility?”

  1. Lincoln
    March 6th, 2016 @ 8:12 am

    Thanks for sharing %TILTLE% 🙂

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