This is a guest post from the GFF– We recently attended the Powershift conference that brought in 11k youth to talk about climate change
At PowerShift09, I attended the session: Healthier Planet, Healthier People – The Dual Fight for Health Care and Climate Change Solutions. I’m very interested in both public health issues and climate change, so I though this session would be a good mix of both topics. The speakers were Cindy Parker and Anna Gilmore Hall of HealthCare Without Harm; and they spoke about how climate change has, and will continue to have, a dramatic impact on healthcare and how we need to fight both issues simultaneously. The session room was completely full, clearly many people are interested in these issues.
Cindy focused her remarks on how climate change is affecting health. She spoke about how climate change is affecting our food supply, causing droughts and floods, and increasing the risk of infectious diseases. She used the example of West Nile Virus, which as she said, came to the US because of globalization, but spread rapidly because of climate change. When mosquitoes infected with West Nile first arrived in New York City, there was a drought, which cause animals to gather at the sparse water sources. This made it much easier for the mosquitoes to infect others and spread the disease. This was certainly a great example of how climate change really is affecting the diseases that we are now fighting.
According to Cindy, the World Health Organization (WHO) di d a study to get a rough estimate of how many people are dying as a result of climate change. They used measures such as deaths from infectious diseases, storm surges, and droughts. I would argue that there are probably even more indicators they could have used, but I’m sure that gave a good rough estimate. What WHO determined from the study was that about 150,000 people around the world each year die as a result of climate change. I think, and Cindy agreed, that the actual number is much much bigger and that number will probably only increase.
The most interesting, though unsurprising and depressing, aspect of the WHO study was that most of those dying as a result of climate change are people living in the developing world. But as we all know, most carbon emissions come from developed nations. I think Cindy put it best in her remarks:
The developed countries are producing the problem; the developing countries are suffering the consequences.
How depressing, and completely unfair to the rest of the world. After this depressing news, Cindy closed her presentation with a bit of optimism, saying:
the bad thing about climate change is that we’re all part of the problem, the good thing is that we can all be part of the solution.
Anna then spoke about how hospitals and other health care organizations are working to green their operations. She spoke about a tool that allows hospitals to see the direct impact of their energy usage on the health of their communities. I’m sure that would be a sobering thing for any hospital administrator to look at.
Anna also spoke about things that individuals can do, including becoming more efficient in our personal energy usage, in how we drive and use transit, and how we eat. She noted that we need to think of climate change as affecting our children and our future, more than just the polar bears and other wildlife. She said we need better community design and a better food system in our country to really address climate change.
The big point of the presentation was that:
global warming is a global issue with global solutions.
But each individual person has a role to play. It is a huge opportunity, as well as a huge challenge. I really couldn’t agree more.
After taking a few questions and discussing a few other topics including healthier food and a greener pharmaceutical industry, the presenters wrapped things up. It was, overall, a phenomenal session. It was a great way to tie health care and climate change together and show that we can, and should, work on both these issues simultaneously.