Posts Tagged ‘Climate change’

Friday, 4 December 2009.

I’m somewhere over the steppes of Central Asia – on my way back from an international conference in Hong Kong on the theme of emerging issues in public health. Time to sit back and reflect.

It was a good conference – attracting delegates from all over East Asia and beyond. Inevitably, much of the focus was on the ever-increasing burden of chronic disease in this rapidly developing and urbanising region – not just China and India, but Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and even Burma.

The same pattern is repeated again and again.  People flock to the cities to find work, the buildings zoom up, the traffic multiplies, the diet westernises and the waistbands expand. Obesity linked to diabetes linked to heart disease and stroke. Not helped by the efforts of the tobacco industry. As a result, the health systems, mostly private sector, creak and buckle. There’s widespread recognition that public health improvement and primary care are vital – but also widespread concern that they are chronically underfunded, patchily organised and poorly linked together.

One key to this is education – linking public health and clinical training -, a recurring theme of the conference and the main thrust of my keynote presentation.

But the real value in my travelling to Hong Kong was undoubtedly in the face-to-face meetings with people who have the power and influence to build up public health and primary care and link them together. There is no substitute for the personal touch in this part of the world – perhaps in any part of the world. Tele-meetings, invaluable though they are for many purposes, simply don’t cut it for forming close working relationships and building camaraderie and trust. Business people know this – to clinch a deal you need to get to know each other.

But, as I fly back across Mongolia and Siberia towards Moscow, St Petersburg and the Baltic, Copenhagen edges into my moving map and gnaws at my conscience. I know that this kind of meeting will have to become a rarity – at least for me. I do not want to be a climate criminal. I do not want to let the planet down. Of course I only fly long-haul to meetings where I feel my being there might make a real difference. But even so, I am determined to be much more selective in future. And I’m sure many others will be making the same resolution.

Yes, it poses awful dilemmas – can I really accept this next invitation to another faraway place? But it’s a nettle the academic world, and the business world, will increasingly have to grasp.

Otherwise Heathrow will need a third runway – and we’ll all need another Earth.

Read Full Post »

By Dr Mala Rao

With just days to go for the United Nations Climate Change conference to begin, one can hardly avoid getting caught up with the intense speculation in the media as to what the outcome of the Copenhagen discussions will be.

Scientific evidence that the continued increase in greenhouse gas emissions is resulting in the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) must form the foundation for a global policy to avert climate catastrophe and to establish a lower carbon economy. We owe this to our youth and to future generations. And this is why I am delighted to have been invited to address the Andhra Pradesh chapter of the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN) next week, and to enhance their knowledge of the health impacts of climate change in India.

Founded in 2008, the IYCN, which is part of the Global Youth Climate Movement, is an impressive coalition of young people concerned about climate change and wanting to contribute to climate solutions. It aims to generate awareness but also provides training on practical action. For example, how to establish and lead grassroots groups in their communities to become better informed about climate change and to contribute to measures such as addressing the environmental degradation which merely serves to reinforce the impacts of climate change. The work of the IYCN in cleaning up polluted lakes and helping with the recent relief effort in flood-affected districts of Andhra Pradesh is truly inspirational.

The IYCN is actively supported by the state government’s Chief Conservator of Forests who has established an impressive e-group entitled AP Environment Connect to link civil society groups, the IYCN, government officials and academics such as myself to share ideas and information on climate solutions. The APEC has arranged a three-day camp next week in Hyderabad, to watch telecasts of live coverage from Copenhagen, interact with India’s representatives at the Summit and to attend a series of presentations on the science, the impacts, the adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. I look forward not only to giving my talk on the health impacts at the camp but to learning about the highly innovative solutions being considered to achieve both economic progress and environmental protection. The optimism, enthusiasm and commitment of the APEC group, and the IYCN in particular, has been evident at past events and I am sure that next week’s will not disappoint.

I also look forward to sharing the new evidence published in The Lancet last week, about how India could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improve the health of its population at the same time by encouraging the use of cleaner cooking stoves and establishing urban transport policies which encourage walking and cycling and lower car use. I remain convinced that the health and well-being benefits of a lower carbon economy must be the most politically persuasive argument to advocate for change.

Nine years ago, leaders from 192 countries were sufficiently concerned about international health and social inequalities to agree an ambitious range of Millennium Development Goals, to combat poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease. We must support our global leaders to seize this ‘what did you do in the war, daddy’ moment and demonstrate a similarly collaborative vision at Copenhagen that delivers a blueprint for a lower carbon and a better and more equal world.

  • Dr Mala Rao is Director of the first Indian Institute of Public Health, based in Hyderabad.

Read Full Post »

By Jenny Griffiths

The UK will stage its biggest ever demonstration in support of action on climate change – The Wave – just before the United Nations conference commences.  To help to ensure that the health voice is heard loud and clear, health professionals will meet on Saturday 5th December to hear inspirational speakers and share ideas before joining the main event, walking to Parliament, demanding a healthier, low carbon society for ourselves and future generations.

The increasingly unstable climate has been affecting health in the UK for some years: the 2003 heatwave and the 2007 floods being the most dramatic examples.  The fight is on to avoid the tipping point of two degrees of global warming, beyond which catastrophic impacts around the world could trigger food and water shortages, ecosystem and associated economic collapse and mass migrations.  This is a public health crisis: we have only 5-10 years to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions, which rose by a third globally in the last decade.

A growing movement of health professionals is leading the way to a healthy, positive future.  As the Faculty’s Peder Clark notes in his post of 27 November, there is increasingly strong evidence that what is good for the climate is also good for health.  There are many inspirational examples of public health action:

  • Directors of Public Health are taking the lead in explaining to their populations that climate change is a major health issue; see for example Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones’ 2007 Annual Report which was entirely focused on environmental issues
  • Public health staff are involved with community development initiatives, such as Transition Towns which are creating self-supporting, healthy, resilient communities – for example Angela Raffle, who made a presentation at the FPH conference in Scarborough
  • Primary care trusts are working effectively with local authorities to plan and design healthy, sustainable communities – CABE’s recent publication “Future health: sustainable places for health and well-being” has examples
  • Many health organisations have joined the 10:10 campaign to reduce carbon emissions by 10% in 2010 – most health organisations are reducing their consumption of energy from buildings and travel, as well as developing adaptation strategies to cope with heatwaves, floods and energy crises
  • The Sustainable Development Commission and the NHS Sustainable Development Unit have recently launched the new Good Corporate Citizenship Assessment Model to support progress on sustainable development

We have, of course, yet to reach the critical mass of public commitment to resolute action.  A recent Times poll suggested that over 40 % of the population are still in denial that climate change is happening now and is caused by our lifestyles; and it is likely that the Copenhagen summit will not deliver legally binding commitments.

But the health community can be ready with a powerful non-pharmaceutical prescription for post-Copenhagen depression: a public health movement for healthy, sustainable, low-carbon communities.  It is the most important public health movement of our lifetime, its underlying aim being no less than to secure the future for the human species.

Change will be difficult because we are deeply addicted to carbon-dependent ways of living.  But a low-carbon life rewards us with a health dividend: an improved quality of life replacing a focus on materialistic standards of living.

And in public health we have decades of experience to draw on in how to help people to overcome the most intractable behavioural challenges, through an effective combination of policy and practice.

We know what to do.

Read Full Post »

Climate change is so often associated with doom and gloom, so it was a welcome surprise to hear some good news yesterday at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I was attending the launch of the latest publication in the Lancet’s series on health and climate change, which looks at the public health benefits of action taken to reduce the damage we’re doing to our planet.

Ahead of the vital discussions in Copenhagen in two weeks time, it was unsurprising that the event attracted top brass. WHO Director General Dr Margaret Chan, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services all recorded video messages of support. Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham declared it to be the “most important meeting I’ll attend all year”, which hopefully wasn’t far wrong.

The messages presented were no less important. Alongside comprehensive evidence about the severity of the crisis that we are all facing as our planet heats up, the report’s authors outlined the largely positive impacts upon our health that will result from taking decisive action to avert global warming. Professor Sir Andrew Haines and his team looked at four key areas in which strategies are being developed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: household energy, urban land transport, low-carbon electricity generation, and food and agriculture.

They found that many of these measures will impact positively on the public’s health. For example, a transport policy that enables people to walk or cycle more will not only reduce carbon emissions, but also result in lower cardiovascular disease as a result of more active lifestyles. Better insulated houses will result in warmer homes, reducing the number of deaths in winter. A reduction in the amount of meat in our diets would not only reduce methane emissions from livestock, but reduce ischaemic heart disease.

The models that the researchers explored included those in developing nations. For instance, the simple carbon stoves used by the poorest half of the world’s households are inefficient and produce airborne particles, including black carbon, and cause respiratory problems in adults and children alike. Replacing the old stoves with new, cleaner and more fuel efficient stoves over a ten year period in India would reduce the burden of these problems by a sixth, the equivalent to eliminating nearly half the country’s entire cancer burden. The message is clear: what is good for the planet is good for health.

It was an unusual feeling to walk out of a climate change meeting feeling positive about the future. It’s very easy to feel hopeless when confronted with the terrifying reality of where our world could be heading, but this event, and the accompanying publication, provides cause for optimism.

Fear paralyses, but hope energises. Let’s make sure that politicians remember these strong messages about health and climate change when they sit down in Copenhagen on 7 December.

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

Here I am, enjoying a little summer frivolity up at the Edinburgh Fringe, and it seems to me there isn’t a stand-up standing who hasn’t made some play with swine flu or obesity or the crack-down on binge drinking. From Rhod Gilbert to Rich Hall, from Jason Byrne to Stewart Lee, they’ve all had a go at public health one way or another.

Meanwhile quite a few of the musical cabarets are getting in on the act too. The Oompah Band are sending up the credit crunch with lots of brassy references to redundancy, repossessed homes and the horrors of being down-and-out. Fascinating Aida do a hilarious song about health and safety on children’s outings and a wonderful calypso about the impact of climate change in the Shetlands. And yes, the comedy group I’m singing in, Instant Sunshine, can’t resist joining in with a number about the perils of the demon drink.

But what a strange time I’m having. One minute I’m talking seriously on the radio, down the line from the BBC’s Edinburgh studio, about ham sandwiches, candle wax and the risk of cancer, and the next I’m up on stage singing a silly song about a showjumper who’s lost his horse. One minute I’m on Sky News debating the joys of the NHS versus the inequities of the US healthcare system, and the next I’m impersonating the Queen opening a desperately unfinished Olympic site in 2012.

But hey, that’s showbiz for you. Instant Sunshine’s stuff is gently humorous, utterly inoffensive and, let’s face it, a little dated. We first came here in 1975 and have been back every other year since, thanks to a small but faithful following. There have been thousands of acts on the Fringe, but we are probably the longest-serving. Certainly our queue has by far the most zimmer frames.

 It’s all great fun and utterly frivolous. And I suppose, if it makes people happy for a while, it’s public health – kind of – isn’t it?

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts