Climate change poses an immediate and grave threat to the health and security of people around the world. Efforts to achieve a low carbon economy may beneficially impact human health as well.
Professor Sir Andy Haines from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (United Kingdom) and Dr. Carlos Dora from the World Health Organization (Switzerland) argue that the benefits to health of a low carbon economy “have frequently been overlooked” yet “they offer the promise of accelerating progress towards both public health and climate goals.” For example, shifting away from burning coal for electricity will not only cut carbon dioxide emissions and health damaging pollutants; one estimate suggests it would avert around 90,000 premature deaths annually in India alone. And increasing active travel in cities will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, it also has the potential to cut rates of heart disease, obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, breast and colon cancer. Furthermore, investments in active transport are generally excellent value for money, making many of these policies highly attractive on both health and economic grounds, say the authors. “The health sector has a unique contribution to make to climate policies,” they urge. “Health professionals can promote greater accountability, and generate the evidence that can be used by a range of stakeholders to select policies that improve health whilst reducing greenhouse gas.”
- Andy Haines, Carlos Dora. “How the low carbon economy can improve health.” BMJ 2012;344:e1018, 19 March 2012.