Reduced Greenhouse Gases Means Better Health
Strategies to reduce greenhouse gases will not only improve the environment, they will also mean better human health. That is the consensus of new studies just published in Lancet, in which the authors agree that the cost savings that result from improvements in health will offset the cost of tackling climate change and therefore should be included in policy discussions related to greenhouse gas reduction.
The new studies were funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS; part of the National Institutes of Health) and several British partners, including the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Department of Health, the Royal College of Physicians, and others. US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius remarked on the studies, noting that “We are learning that the health of our planet and the health of our people are tied together. It’s difficult for one to thrive without the other.” She also noted that “If we work to reduce pollution, we will also reduce deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.”
The authors of these reports and their associated organizations are among many who are voicing their opinions and sharing their knowledge about greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and health. Coinciding with the publication of these four studies, for example, was the announcement of the formation of the International Climate and Health Council, which is composed of physicians who are warning policy makers that it is critical to reduce carbon emissions to help protect the health of the world’s citizens.
The four studies were commissioned to help inform discussions that will take place at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009. The four topic areas are household energy, transportation, electricity, and agriculture, and the results of each have shown that significant improvements in health can be achieved if the right strategies are chosen for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The household energy article, for example, explains that replacing biomass stoves used in India could reduce respiratory infections in children and chronic heart disease in adults. The indoor air pollution produced by these inefficient cooking stoves increases the development of these serious health conditions.
The transportation report shows that reducing vehicle emissions and increasing cycling and walking would reduce heart disease and stroke by 10 to 20 percent, dementia by 8 percent, and depression by 5 percent. The results of the electricity study demonstrate that reducing carbon dioxide by switching its methods of generation, to wind turbines, for example, would reduce particulate air pollution and likely prove to be most advantageous to India and China in terms of health-related cost savings.
The agriculture and food report indicate that this sector contributes about 20 percent of the worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve a 15 percent reduction in heart disease as well as a decline in greenhouse gases, the study notes that a 30 percent reduction in the consumption of saturated fats from animals will be required.
According to Linda Birnbaum, PhD, director of the NIEHS and National Toxicology Program, the findings reported in this papers “demonstrate there are clear and substantive improvements for health if we choose the right mitigation strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” an effort, she noted, that is “really a win-win situation for everyone.” Kirk R. Smith, PhD, University of California, Berkeley, and author of several of the papers, agreed, adding that “Carefully choosing how we reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have the added benefit of reducing global health inequities.”
NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences