Health organisations are hitting the hustings in the lead up to the Copenhagan conference on climate change.
The Lancet has just published a series of articles examining the health implications, not only of climate change but also of climate change mitigation efforts.
The conclusion is that many mitigation strategies – but not all – are likely to bring public health benefits in addition to their impact on climate change. (Just in case you needed another reason for saving the planet!)
A brief summary:
• Many measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the sectors of household energy, transport, food and agriculture, and electricity generation have ancillary health benefits (or health co-benefits), which are often substantial.
• The health co-benefits resulting from such measures can help address existing global health priorities, such as child mortality from acute respiratory infections, ischaemic heart disease in adults, and other non-communicable diseases.
• Improvement of access to affordable, clean energy (especially for disadvantaged populations), together with other appropriate strategies in several sectors, can contribute to a reduction in the risk of dangerous climate change while improving health, reducing poverty, and supporting development.
• Specific policies that can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and result in health benefits include increased active transport (walking and cycling) and reduced private-car use in urban settings, increased uptake of improved cookstoves in low-income countries, reduced consumption of animal products in high-consumption settings, and generation of electricity from renewable or other low-carbon sources rather than from fossil fuels, particularly coal.
• Some measures, however, can have negative health effects; therefore assessment of health effects of greenhouse-gas mitigation strategies is important.
• Health professionals have an important role in the design of a low-carbon economy, motivated by evidence of the projected benefits to public health.
The series is the result of a project funded by a consortium of health and medical groups. The only Australian contributors that I could spot were from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the ANU: Ainslie Butler, Colin D Butler, Sharon Friel, and Anthony J McMichael.
Meanwhile, in the US, Physicians for Social Responsibility has released this report, “Coal’s Assault on Human Health,” which investigates how coal affects the human body.
Coal combustion releases mercury, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and dozens of other substances known to be hazardous to human health. The report looks at the cumulative harm inflicted by those pollutants on three major body organ systems: the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, and the nervous system. It also considers coal’s contribution to global warming, and the health implications of global warming.
Back in Oz, of course, it’s still all about the politics. Health hasn’t been too effective at infiltrating or influencing the discussions.