Still wrapping up some of the amazing stuff I learned at the recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference:
The Europeans are ahead of us on climate change. OK, that’s not amazing. But their message is provocative: Taking steps to slow climate change will also be good for our health.
Not long before December’s global talks on fighting global warming, look for research to appear in The Lancet enumerating a number of ways such a course of action will make our physicians happy.
This word comes from Jonathan Patz, a University of Wisconsin scientist and IPCC author who appeared on a panel I organized for the SEJ conference. The work of Patz and others on an American version of this research is due out in the spring.
It’s true that when you think about it, most of these benefits should be obvious. But I hadn’t considered them all. And it sounds like this new research will quantify them somewhat. Said Patz:
This is the biggest public-health opportunity in a century.
Here’s at least a partial rundown of the health benefits we’re talking about:
- Reduced air pollution. Coal burns dirtier than natural gas, which burns a lot dirtier than, well, these don’t burn at all, but solar and wind. Our basic energy formula has always been: Burn stuff. You burn less stuff, you get less asthma, less congestive heart failure and so forth. Less ozone pollution, too. More can be found in the Dutch report “Co-Benefits of Climate Policy.” (PDF)
- If we’re walking and biking more when we previously would have driven — which would result from, say, a carbon tax — we’ll be getting that exercise our doctors have been clamoring for.
- Eating meat produces a huge carbon footprint. If we scarf down less rotting animal flesh — particularly beef — we’ll have less gunk in our bloodstream threatening to cause heart attacks and stress, among other benefits. (But recall there’s an interesting counterpoint that argues it’s not meat, per se, but rather the agro-corporate way we raise it, that is responsible for the greenhouse gas production.) I’m at least as guilty as the average bear on this score, btw. Love a good pulled pork, a beautiful brisket… oh, but I’m also learning that some nachos with cheese and beans can be pretty tasty. Still trying to master falafels, though.
- The pattern of rainy areas getting rainier means while dry areas get drier means we’ll have more stormwater in those rainy areas. And as we’ve pointed out before, big gully-washers increase the amount of times raw sewage gets dumped into waterways through combined sewer overflows.
- Let’s also not forget that as the flooding increases, so will the amount of post-flood mold. That stuff can be really debilitating. Just ask the folks in New Orleans.
- Heat waves appear to be getting worse. Witness the one that killed some 35,000 in Europe in 2003. Although no such individual weather event can be ascribed to a changing climate, it’s widely thought that we’ll see more such heat waves — and more deaths — as the globe warms.
- Let’s not forget that as warmth spreads from tropical zones into formerly temperate areas, the incidence of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases increases in areas that were formerly marginal hosts for the skeeters that carry such diseases.