LASER TALK: Climate Change is a Medical Emergency

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The threat to human health from climate change is so great that it could undermine the last 50 years of gains in development and global health, experts warned in the Lancet in June 2015. In November 2017, the Lancet published Planetary health: protecting human health on a rapidly changing planet  by  Dr.  Samuel Myers, the principal research scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Planetary Health Alliance. extended the finding.

Human impacts on the planet have accelerated steeply since the 1950s and 1960s, Myers said. As nature’s life support systems degrade in the future, there could be more frequent and dramatic extreme weather events, lower quantities of key nutrients in staple food crops, and a decline in insect pollinators. Such changes could impact multiple aspects of human health and wellbeing—nutrition, infectious disease, noncommunicable disease, displacement and conflict, and mental health. Myers said the poorest people of the world will likely be most affected.

The good news is burning fewer fossil fuels reduces respiratory diseases and getting people walking and cycling more cuts pollution, road accidents and rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

In August, 2015, the Canadian Medical Association divested from fossil fuels  and the members approved a motion (DM 5-21) to promote the health benefits of a strong and predictable price on carbon emissions.

Previously, Canadian Health associations sounded the alarm about the health impacts of climate change. In June 2014  Dr. Eilish Cleary, Chief Medical Officer of Health for New Brunswick, expressed the necessity of considering human health when making decisions about emissions.  She said, “There hasn’t been adequate recognition by all levels of policy-makers and decision-makers that it is really a problem that we have to do something about.”  Nova Scotia’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Strang concurred, adding that the discourse has been too focused on adaptation to the exclusion of mitigation planning.

Public health officials know that if you are concerned about public health you should also be concerned about climate change.  If we want to prevent the health consequences of climate change, we need to work to decrease our fossil fuel emissions.  That’s why Citizens’ Climate Lobby supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax.  The return of 100% of the proceeds from the tax is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine of a carbon tax go down smoothly.  It’s time to take action.

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