Climate Change – How arresting it could ensure better health for mankind
Globally, there has been an inexorable rise in cancer and heart diseases. Every year sees a new high in the number of cases, and often, deaths. The medical community can just watch helplessly as their hospitals are swamped by patients suffering from these two dreaded ailments. No doubt, there have been spectacular advances in the treatment of these two diseases, their increasing incidence has overtaken the progress of medical science to treat them. Doctors often rue that medical science, no matter how fast it advances, alone can not curb them. The scientists are unanimous in their opinion that a drastic improvement in the environment can put a brake on the exponential spread of these two diseases. Left unattended, environmental degradation caused by ver exploitation of earth’s resources, could take a very painful toll of human lives. Out of the many ways dirty air, soil and water hurt us and other members of our biosphere, perils posed to our health are the most stark, especially when the diseases begin to defy doctors’ ability to treat them.
The world woke up to this creeping danger as late as 1970, when scientists in the United States started investigating the link between air pollution and health. It didn’t take long to establish a link between the two. Many states soon began to legislate to curb air pollution. In 1970, considered a milestone year in Environmental Studies, the clean air act amendments were passed by the Congress leading to the establishment of the nation’s air quality standards.
The world saw the boldest and most far-reaching international initiative when the Paris Climate Accord was signed in Paris in April 26, 2016. The accord named as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has since been ratified by more than 190 countries, thus giving it a stamp of both moral and legal acceptance of the global community.
Since, the single most critical parameter to measure the pace and degree of climate degradation is the change in the earth’s temperature, scientists taking part in the Paris talks decided to act in a way so that the global average temperature rise remains below 2 degree centigrade (3.6 °F) above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to just 1.5 °C (2.7 °F). The experts agreed that this cap would substantially reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. The consensus was to collectively and energetically work towards achieving this goal through appropriate policy measures to be adopted by different countries.
The way President Trump pooh-poohed climate threat and took his country out of the Paris Accord is history. President Biden has moved in very fast to assuage the world that America will not be found wanting in the global endeavor to limit the temperature rise. Sadly though, member nations are yet to adopt ambitious carbon emission reduction plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). With the current level of commitments, the world is on track for a global temperature rise of more than 2.5°C. (as against 2 degrees envisaged).
That not all countries are committed to the cause of limiting global temp rise with the same intensity is an open secret. Many say development takes precedence on climate initiatives in their policy framework. A recent paper published in the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change points to the fact that millions of deaths can be avoided every year by 2040 through improvement of living conditions. Countries like Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States could save 6.4 million lives by making available better diet, 1.6 million lives through cleaner air, and 2.1 million lives by making people exercise more.
Nearly one out of two persons in the world live in the above- named nine countries. These countries emit about 70% of the total emissions of earth. By single-mindedly pursuing climate goals, premature deaths, long and costly hospitalization, and much loss of productive lives can be avoided. This will ensure well-being for the citizens besides bringing economic benefits in many other ways.
The Lancet survey sought to correlate deaths caused by dirty air, faulty eating habits, and sedentary life style. The study considered three scenarios i, e.
1. ‘Baseline Scenario’ based on current Nationally Determined Contribution commitments,
2. the ‘Sustainable pathways’ scenario based on NDC commitments in line with the Paris Accord, and
3. ‘Health in all climate policies,’ scenario to include explicit health objectives.
The Lancet study revealed many startling results. The scientists and policy makers were pleasantly surprised to see a substantial increase in the quality of life, with 5.8 million lives a year saved through better diet, 1.2 million lives via cleaner air, and 1.2 million lives due to increased exercise.
When experts refer to better food, they have in mind foods that have no carcinogenic substances like residues of pesticides and fertilizers. ‘Good’ food also means limited quantities of red meat producing which has adverse impact on environment. Thus, ‘chemical-free’, balanced meals with more vegetables and fruits and less meat can ensure better health and longevity.
The Lancet study’s findings assumes added significance because it has come just a few months before the Cop 26 meeting in Glasgow in November to be attended by the Paris accord signatory nations. The member countries will update and revise their NDC pledges. It is hoped that the Lancet report’s findings would act as an incentive for the world’s leaders to make good on their climate commitments in new NDCs.
The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us important lessons. The world leaders are aware of the gross inadequacy of the hospital infrastructure in handling sudden rush of patients. Even in rich western countries, the hospitals collapsed under the load of Covid-19 patients. So, it becomes a matter of paramount importance to ensure we are not inundated by critically ill cancer and cardiac patients. Not being able to save their lives will be a great tragedy. Lancet’s findings need our attention.
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