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Wellness Corner - December 2016 The Public's Health

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Wellness Corner - December 2016
The Public's Health

 

 

Whatever your perception of the recent election, it seems we are entering a period of accelerating cultural change. These are the times when it becomes important to look at our core values, and to decide what we are willing to take a stand for.

In terms of the climate, the day has arrived that we have been warned about for a few decades. The forces of weather have begun spinning out of control, to where the ecosystem is changing irrevocably. Weather instability, ocean rise, and wildlife disappearing are all daily news, despite the fact that most of us are somewhat buffered from the immediate effects. As food becomes harder to grow, coastlines get inundated with water, fires escalate, and disease patterns transform, climate change will soon become the most pressing public health issue. 

Scientific consensus is that a 2 degree rise in temperature is very problematic, and global governments have pledged to prevent going beyond (although Donald Trump says he will pull out of these agreements). Unfortunately, now they think that 2 degrees is inevitable, and without significant changes in human activity, it could go to 4 or even a 6-degree rise. At those levels, the scientists are saying the planet would be incompatible with human civilization as we know it. The timeframe of the predictions is getting scarily short – probably during the lifetime of our children.

This information has been available for some time. There is now proof that Exxon/Mobil has been aware for 30 years or more, and has been planning accordingly (i.e., raising their drilling platforms to accommodate rising sea levels), despite their strident efforts to confound the discussion and cast doubt on the evidence in the public discussion. When focusing on “Public Health,” we hear regular reminders about getting the flu vaccine, but probably a more pressing struggle now needs to be against the energy companies who are continuing to extract oil and coal and subvert the conversion to renewables. They are working to continue to obtain huge profits while the ability of the planet to support life is plummeting. This now becomes a spiritual/moral crisis. How can we leave the planet to our children and grandchildren in this shape?

It is Possible to Shift the Trajectory…

Since current energy use patterns are causing most of the problem, any solution must have a two-pronged approach: stopping further burning of carbon-based fuels and finding other ways to meet the huge human appetite for energy. There is increasing evidence that we have the technology available to make the shift to renewables at the level that we can prevent the worse of the changes. 

The activist community has directed its focus towards stopping the development of further infrastructure that supports extraction of oil and coal. “Leave it in the ground,” meaning we cannot burn much more as an energy source without dire consequences (hence the current focus in North Dakota on blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline). We will be seeing more and more of these actions. 

The other arm for action, sustainable energy production, has come a long way in the last 20 years. Sonoma Clean Power is an admirable example of some of the important steps being made. Renewables can support a majority, if not all of our energy needs in the near future. A primary focus should be on devoting much of our remaining petroleum allotment on the transition to renewables.

Public Health

It is clear that our media and political leadership are not dealing with this issue, and president-elect Trump has declared the overwhelming scientific consensus as a “hoax.” Federal subsidies continue to go to energy companies for R and D, and policies actively facilitate increased carbon emissions despite the irrefutable damage that is being done. This is a public health crisis that will demand a commitment not unlike the commitment that mobilized the country during World War II (see Bill McKibben’s latest article). 

The unique task of this generation, then, becomes to shift the momentum of human-caused climate change in order to try to salvage a habitable planet for future generations. What are you willing to take a stand for? What has to be taken away before you are going to step up?