“The Greatest Threat to Human Health of the 21st Century”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is quite the statement, isnt it?

“The Greatest Threat to Human Health of the 21st Century”

But what is this threat you might wonder? I imagine some of you may think it war, natural reasources drying up, mass migration, or massive rise in diseases that we can no longer treat. In a way, you are all right. Quite simply the global climate changes that we are seeing have the real and credible potential to trigger all of those issues we dread – and more in fact.


Now, if like me, you may read profound statemennts like this all the time in the news paper headlines, and after a second or two of “oh that sounds bad” thoughts running through your mind, you crack on with your day don’t you? I know I do. For the threat isnt imminent is it? The biblical floods arent suddenly going to appear with, well, with Russell Crowe, beckoning your pet budgerigar onto his wooden ship that he built with Emma Watson, nor are you going to find a large chunk of arctic ice disrupting your school run as you drop off the kids. But this is the problem isnt it – a bit like the obesity pandemic that is engulfing us – we think climate change is a problem for the future.

It seems this problem is fast catching up with us.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the very smart people who are trying to save us from ourselves – this is a world-wide “threat to human survival, health and well-being”. I don’t know about you (and yes, I agree, it does sound a little like a line from Will Smith’s blockbuster, Independance Day), but that is a little terrifying. Suddenly, with statements like that, I start listening. What makes matters worse is that apparently 50% of this issue of climate change is down to what we as humans have done – it’s “anthropogenic” – i.e. we made it happen.

So what is the fall out from this? Well, according to the IPCC there are six major issues:

1. Increased scarecity of food and water

2. Extreme weather events

3. Rise in sea levels

4. Areas becoming uninhabitable

5. Mass human migration

6. Conflict and violence

I don’t know about you but none of that sounds particularly attractive a proposition. What I find alarming is that we are already hearing so much about the changes that are happening around the world – ice-caps melting, temperatures changing by what we perceive to be insignificant margins (but which infact destabilise the very eco-system we exist within), and freak weather – the latter of which we, right here in the UK, have born witness to over the past couple of years.

It appears, ladies and gentlemen, that we are at a tipping point. One that the IPCC states could lead to “a catastrophic collapse of interlinked human and natural systems”. This is not a problem for the future – this is a problem for right now. And THAT IS the problem isnt it – because we are all fighting something that is effectively blind, untangible and so insidiously slow growing that we lack the patience and resolve to wage war against it. That is not our fault, I would argue, as it is inherently in human nature. However, it appears that now we have to assume responsiblity for the invisible beast that we, to all intense and purpose, have created by our very own modern day, demanding, carbon-fuelled existence.

So, what can we do? I say WE in terms of the human race. I know, I know a very grand statement from a lowly junior doctor sitting with a cup of tea and a slice of key-lime pie (I made it last night – it was my best yet!) but still! Well, for one there needs to be immediate action as this is now, according to the IPCC “an emergency” and we need action at all levels: individual, family, society, political, and financial. We need to act as one global community not a group of disconnected, disagreeing, disruptive States. Maybe we should get Bono involved and get a concert going…Why set all these differences aside? Well, bottom line, as far as I can see it – if there is no earth to inhabit, these inter-State problems are irrelevant! There simply wont be any States.

Interestingly not only would changing the way we live help stave off climate change’s march to our removal as guests from this planet but, it may also make us a little healthier! Ok, putting on my doctor hat – here is the score: if we create and promote more active forms of transport, like cycling or electrive cars, we reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. The same goes for cutting down on red meat (and hence helping reduce demand on supply when climate change is making that demand harder to supply anyway). Furthermore if we were to use less fossil fuels, reduce carbon emmissions and so on, air pollution will go down – THAT means less respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructuve pulmonary disease.

I know you will all read this and say yes, yes we know all this. This is where I bring out my favourite of the big guns – the “Knowing-Doing Gap” – We are know climate change is happening and it has devastating effects but still we don’t do anything or at the very best a sub-therapeutic amount to ot cause effective change. There quite simplu is a GAP! So, perhaps you make the tiniest of changes tomorrow. So what you may think. Well, imagine if a million people made the tiniest of changes together. That starts to add up does it not.

Let me help you. In return you help me. Then we can help others and others in return help us. We can all change. We need to change before climate change starts to know even louder on our shores. This isnt the rest of the world’s problem now – it is ours as well.

Now, with that in mind, I doning my rain-coat and going to find Russel Crowe to hitch a lift in the Ark….

Dr Nick


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