Why Doctors Care
About Climate Change
While politicians dilly-dally about whether to make a concrete commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, agonizing over possible negative effects on the economy, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), official voice of Canadian physicians, has no such hesitations. "For our members, more than 53,000 physicians across Canada, this international accord is a commitment to improve health status of our citizens and people around the world. ... CMA urge[s] the federal government to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and adopt a strategy that will reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 6% below 1990 levels by 2012."
Why would doctors care about climate
- close to 8% of all non-accidental deaths in Canada are caused by airAir pollution is caused by the by-products of fossil fuel consumption, the same products which cause climate change. So cutting back on the contributors to air pollution is also a step towards decreasing greenhouse gases and global warming.
Not cutting back means an increase in
greenhouse gasses, which means an
"Ralph Klein says the issue is greenhouse
gasses, not air pollution, but you can't talk about one without talking
about the other," says Ken Maybee, President of the NB Lung Association.
Maybee underlines the correlation between the use of fossil fuels, increasing
greenhouse gasses and increasing air pollution, which exacerbate health
problems for those suffering from respiratory diseases including asthma,
emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "It's essential
that the general public understand that as greenhouse gases increase, so
will the effects of
Smog is not a problem restricted to major urban areas. Nova Scotia's agricultural Annapolis Valley is the site of the highest smog levels in Nova Scotia, and smog advisories in the area were numerous this past summer.
Fifty health organizations and more
than two thousand individual physicians and health scientists have signed
the David Suzuki Foundation's Physician's
A March 2002 report from the US National Academies' National Research Council, Abrupt Climate Change:Inevitable Surprises, warns that people can expect "climate surprises" in the form of "large, abrupt and unwelcome regional or global climatic events," including drought, floods, extreme heat, hurricanes and rising sea levels.
Dr. Paul Epstein, associate director
of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical
School, says the report indicates that "we've underestimated the rate of
this change, we've underestimated the sensitivity of biological systems,
we've underestimated the cost of global warming."
Global warming is already resulting in the spread of infectious diseases, as tropical insects which carry these diseases move north and south of their traditional territory. Insect populations increase with warmer winters and better breeding conditions in summer. Projections show that malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever could appear in Canada as insects carrying them migrate north. Epstein links drought intensified by climate change to the spread of the West Nile virus.
Climate change can also threaten the quantiity and quality of drinking water. Water sources may be threatened by drought, as well as by increased contamination from bacteria, viruses, protozoa and parasites.
Inaction on global warming is costly. Economists estimate that health benefits from improving ambient air quality in Canada would amount to $8 billion over 20 years. The CMA states, "While opponents are eager to argue that signing on will have a negative impact on Canadian industries, they conveniently ignore the impact inaction will have on the health and well being of Canadians and others around the world. ... Reducing ... emissions would provide significant health benefits, not only in terms of the number of adverse health effects that can be avoided but also the economic cost of illnesses due to these health effects - an unhealthy workforce does not lead to a strong economy."
The bottom line is, there are many ways
to run an economy, but there is no
What you can do...