Research Article: Limiting global warming to 1.5 to 2.0°C—A unique and necessary role for health professionals

Date Published: May 14, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Edward W. Maibach, Mona Sarfaty, Mark Mitchell, Rob Gould

Abstract: In an Editorial, Edward Maibach and colleagues discuss the important role of health professionals in future responses to threats of climate change.

Partial Text: Numerous recent scientific assessments—including the IPCC 1.5°C report [1] and the Lancet Countdown [3]—have made clear that health harms of climate change are no longer just a future threat: they are our current reality. These harms include illness, injuries, and deaths from increasingly dangerous weather (including extreme heat, precipitation, and flooding), worsening air pollution, the spread of infectious diseases, increases in food- and water-borne illnesses, reduced nutrition, and profound mental health harms caused or made worse by traumatic climate events.

The world’s transition to a clean energy economy must be greatly accelerated (i.e., nearly 100% clean energy for everything—heating, cooling, transportation, manufacturing, and agriculture). This can be done with wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, improved energy storage capabilities, smart electrical grids, and nuclear energy—although there are legitimate concerns about the inclusion of nuclear energy. This global transition has already started but must be greatly accelerated and must be completed within the next the next few decades. The Solutions Project has developed potentially viable plans for every state in the United States and for most nations in the world to demonstrate the feasibility of this objective [7,8].

Health professionals and the organizations that represent us must become tireless champions for these objectives and for the global agreements that will enable them—especially the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. In a world rife with rapidly eroding trust, we remain trusted honest brokers who place public interests above all others [12]. In this role, we must educate and advocate with people in our communities, civic leaders, and policy makers in government and industry—in our city or county, our state, our nation, and on the global stage—until the objectives have been embraced and achieved. The only way to achieve these objectives is through policy changes that will prioritize human health and sustainable ecosystems and will shift the burden of pollution and other forms of ecosystem degradation back onto those who are responsible, drawing on the common-sense principle of “polluter pays.” The Australian National Climate and Health Framework provides a compelling example of what the health community can and must do [13], as does the recent Call to Action on Climate and Health by Canada’s health professionals [14].

An ancient proverb holds that wrapped in every crisis is an opportunity. The crisis of climate change is a perfect example. Those who argue that responding to the climate challenge is risking our prosperity have it exactly wrong. That is because the actions that must be taken will not only ensure the long-term viability of human civilization but will also soon produce greater health and wealth for all nations that rise to the challenge. Our air and water will be cleaner, our health better, our productivity greater, and our economies stronger. Climate solutions are health solutions, and health solutions are economic solutions. Health professionals are among the people best positioned to make sure that the public and policy makers understand this. Carpe diem.



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