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Wellness Corner by Dr. Gary Pace

Climate Change and Human Health

Oct 23, 2017
by Gary Pace M.D.

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Climate Change Climate instability is probably the most prominent health issue in modern times, and with the recent extreme climate events, it is becoming painfully obvious that we are in a new epoch. Some of the dramatic changes – collapse of the coral reefs, melting of the polar ice caps, severe droughts, devastating local wildfires, and the stunning rains and floods in Florida, Texas, and the Caribbean – all lead to concerns about where these events are headed.  The human health effects can be overwhelming on many different levels.

Climate scientists have been predicting these sorts of events for a few decades, and they are suggesting that the momentum will continue to worsen over the coming years. Certainly there is some natural variation, but the human impact of releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is undoubtedly a root cause of these extreme events.

Politics Of course, the leadership in Washington is actively working to undercut any positive progress on climate change, prioritizing short-term economic gain over human health. Their major concern clearly is economic progress over human health, as evidenced by the aggressive attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, rolling back of environmental protections on pesticides and toxic chemicals, and their track record of blocking attempts to curtail carbon emissions.

Despite the bad news on the Federal level, there is progress being made in other countries, and on the state and local levels. Sonoma County government has made a real commitment to addressing these issues, starting with the Sonoma County Climate Action Plan. We are also home to many effective non-profits working on these issues: Citizens Climate Lobby,Climate Protection Campaign, Post-Carbon Institute, Sonoma Clean Power, and others.

Governor Brown has promised to have the state continue to be a leader in trying to mitigate climate change. He was prominent at the recent UN General Assembly, leading a group of state governors in declaring their commitment to the Paris Climate Accords. California is making a very strong push towards use of renewable energy and working with Cap and Trade, a way of financially incentivizing decreasing carbon emissions.

Many European countries are far ahead of us in moving towards renewable energy sources. As an example, Sweden gets over 50% of its energy needs met through renewable sources. Some European countries, and even China, are making timetables to phase out the sale of gas-powered cars over the coming years as a push towards encouraging electric vehicles. American auto manufacturers are responding by setting aggressive timetables to creating a diverse electric fleet.

Even if we were to stop all carbon emissions tomorrow, admittedly an unlikely scenario, the momentum of the changes already set in motion by the carbon currently in the atmosphere will continue for many years, making the climate more unstable in unpredictable ways. Unfortunately, if we had been able to direct to the transition the billions of dollars going to disaster cleanup, we could have sped this process up significantly.

Are there Solutions? Some important thinkers believe that we have the capacity to make the transition to the Carbon-Free future that is needed. There are two pieces to making the transition – decreasing the amount of carbon emissions (generally by not burning petroleum and coal reserves) and finding ways to remove from the atmosphere some of the carbon that has already been released.

• A recent book by Paul Hawken, Drawdown, provides an uplifting overview of 100 solutions currently in use.  These innovators demonstrate that the technology to make the shift are already known and available.  

Marin Carbon Project is a local example of a very promising solution-- use of agricultural techniques that facilitate carbon sequestration in the soil.

Rocky Mountain Institute works with governments around the world, with the Army, and other large institutions.  Their recent book,Reinventing Fire,
“... maps pathways for running a 158% – bigger US economy in 2050 needing no oil, no coal, and no nuclear power.”

Mark Jacobsen, Stanford Professor, has come up with a specific blueprint outlining the shift to an all renewable energy future.

Conclusions: Climate disruption will be affecting human health in unpredictable ways in the coming years.  Viable solutions are emerging, but the momentum of previous changes will continue to lead to instability.

 

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