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Show 1282: How Climate Change Affects Our Health

Show 1282: How Climate Change Affects Our Health

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Our guests argue that climate change is the greatest threat to global health. What can we do about it?

In September, more than 200 top medical journals around the world took the unprecedented step of publishing the same editorial. It was “Call for Emergency Action to Limit Global Temperature Increases, Restore Biodiversity, and Protect Health.”  In it, editors of various journals identify climate change as the greatest threat to global health. They urge their readers to take urgent action “to aid the transition to a sustainable, fairer, resilient, and healthier world.”

How Does Climate Change Affect Health?

When you think of climate change, healthcare professionals may not spring to mind. Preventing a global temperature rise of not more than 1.5 degrees C is an important goal. Without further explanation, though, it sounds rather technical. You might imagine meteorologists or possibly even geologists being more involved with climate change research. However, as our guests points out, higher temperatures pose hazards in and of themselves. In addition to heat-related illnesses, there are risks from floods, fires and air pollution. Warming permits the spread of insects that can carry disease. Respiratory and cardiovascular complications increase, pregnancy becomes more challenging and malnutrition becomes more widespread as crop yields drop. As a result of more or different pollen counts, allergies and asthma might be more severe.

The Public Health Response to Climate Change:

How could public health agencies respond to this existential crisis? Our guests urge healthcare professionals to become advocates to encourage governments, financial institutions and businesses to set targets and make plans to achieve them. In particular, they argue that such plans must take equity into account, because otherwise they cannot succeed. Addressing health disparities is a moral imperative. Beyond that, it is of immense strategic importance.

This Week's Guests:

Caren Solomon, MD, MPH, is a deputy editor at The New England Journal of Medicine and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She oversees submissions related to climate change and health and has authored Perspective articles for the New England Journal of Medicine on that topic. At Harvard Medical School, she is co-chair of the climate change subcommittee of the Harvard Medical School Faculty Council. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, she is a member of the Climate Action Council. She is also a founding member of Climate Code Blue, a group of Boston area physicians engaged in education and advocacy regarding climate change, health, and environmental sustainability. 

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH, is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE). He is also a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Bernstein regularly testifies before Congress on the child health impacts of climate change, drawing from his personal experience as a pediatrician having to treat children with breathing difficulties, vector-borne diseases, and trauma from natural disasters.

Dr. Bernstein leads Climate MD, a Harvard Chan C-CHANGE program to encourage physicians to transform climate change from an issue dominated by politics and concerns about the future or faraway places, to one that matters to every person’s health here and now.

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