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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Reblog] Climate Change and Medical Risk

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From the 25 October 2013 post at The Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences at Michigan State Universi

This post is a part of our Bioethics in the News series. For more information, click here.

By Sean A. Valles, Ph.D.

 After winning the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has returned to the headlines. Heeding the growing body of climate evidence, they say, “it is extremely likely [95%-100% likely] that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” (IPCC Working Group I 2013, pp. SPM-2, SPM-12). Unfortunately, according to a March Gallup poll:

In contrast to majority acceptance of global warming as real, Gallup finds Americans less than alarmed. One-third worry “a great deal,” and 34% expect it to threaten their way of life. These could be the attitudes that matter most when it comes to Americans’ support for public policies designed to address the issue (Saad 2013).

That skepticism about climate change’s seriousness (and, to a lesser extent, about humans’ responsibility for it) is impeding democratic action in the US. The leadership provided by a skeptical vocal minority has turned the public dialogue into a dispute over uncertainties in how we predict future climate, whether it is accusing researchers of inadequate “objectivity” (LaFramboise 2013) or publicizing pieces of climate data that seem inadequately explained (Darwall 2013). I encourage my bioethics colleagues to help change the conversation, and re-frame the US climate change dialogue to focus on one crucial fact: even with lingering uncertainties, climate change poses health risks that we would be foolish to ignore.

A 2009 special report by TheLancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission declares, “climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century” (Costello, et al. 2009, p. 1693). These are bold words, especially coming from TheLancet—one of the most prestigious medical journals. The report lists a number of health risks: more numerous heat waves will worsen respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms (Costello, et al. 2009, p. 1702), mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases will spread and flourish in newly warm areas (Costello, et al. 2009, p. 1702), and extreme weather events will become more common and stronger (impacting mental health, access to food, access to sanitation infrastructure, etc.) (Costello, et al. 2009, p. 1706). The list goes on, and policy groups such as the EPA have demonstrated that they take it quite seriously. A recent article in Bioethics by Cheryl Cox MacPherson explains that such risks make it clear “Climate Change Is a Bioethics Problem” (MacPherson 2013, p. 305).

Unfortunately, bioethicists’ involvement in the climate change dialogue—a crucialmedical dialogue—has been the exception rather than the norm. Bioethicists are already expert communicators, researchers, interdisciplinary collaborators, and public advocates in the management of multiple intersecting risks and ethical considerations. They apply this expertise to issues such as tissue donation, vaccination, and pharmaceutical testing. I recommend that they add climate change to their list of priorities. Economic constraints, individual liberty, public welfare, being mindful of social justice; these sorts of difficult climate change considerations are very much in bioethicists’ wheelhouse.

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 relative to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recent research on science communication indicates that pragmatically it would be a wise strategy to move health out of the background in the climate change dialogue. A recent study compared audience responses to three different presentations of climate change, “emphasizing either the risks to the environment, public health, or national security;” the researchers found that, “across audience segments, a public health focus was the most likely to elicit emotional reactions consistent with support for climate change mitigation and adaptation” (Myers, et al. 2012, p. 1105). Maibach et al. explains that the “dominant mental frame used by most members of the public to organize their conceptions about climate change is that of ‘climate change as an environmental problem’” (Maibach, et al. 2010, p. 2). We all hear plenty of talk about ‘saving the environment,’ but switching to a health frame would offer important benefits.

Re-defining climate change in public health terms should help people make connections to already familiar problems such as asthma, allergies, and infectious diseases experienced in their communities. The frame also presents the opportunity to involve additional trusted communication partners on the issue, notably public health experts and local community leaders (Maibach, et al. 2010, pp. 9-10).

Pictures of forlorn polar bears floating on melting blocks of ice have proved compelling for some people, but a health-centered approach looks more promising as a default strategy.

Read the entire blog item here

  • Climate change is real, ignore the denialists (irishtimes.com)
  • Pacific nations ‘very disappointed’ by Tony Abbott’s climate scepticism (theguardian.com)
  • A new European report on climate extremes is out (realclimate.org)
  • International Journal of Global Warming — Special Issue on Loss and Damage from Climate Change (Full Text Reports)

    Source: International Journal of Global Warming
    From press release (EurekAlert!):

     

    An open access special issue of the International Journal of Global Warming brings together, for the first time, empirical evidence of loss and damage from the perspective of affected people in nine vulnerable countries. The articles in this special issue show how climatic stressors affect communities, what measures households take to prevent loss and damage, and what the consequences are when they are unable to adjust sufficiently. The guest-editors, Kees van der Geest and Koko Warner of the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) in Bonn, Germany, introduce the special issue with an overview of key findings from the nine research papers, all of which are available online free of charge.

    ‘Loss and damage’ refers to adverse effects of climate variability and climate change that occur despite mitigation and adaptation efforts. Warner and van der Geest discuss the loss and damage incurred by people at the local-level based on evidence from research teams working in nine vulnerable countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kenya, Micronesia, Mozambique and Nepal. The research papers pool data from 3269 household surveys and more than 200 focus groups and expert interviews.

    The research reveals four loss and damage pathways. Residual impacts of climate stressors occur when:

    • existing coping/adaptation to biophysical impact is not enough;
    • measures have costs (including non-economic) that cannot be regained;
    • despite short-term merits, measures have negative effects in the longer term; or
    • no measures are adopted – or possible – at all.

    The articles in this special issue provide evidence that loss and damage happens simultaneously with efforts by people to adjust to climatic stressors. The evidence illustrates loss and damage around barriers and limits to adaptation: growing food and livelihood insecurity, unreliable water supplies, deteriorating human welfare and increasing manifestation of erosive coping measures (e.g. eating less, distress sale of productive assets to buy food, reducing the years of schooling for children, etc.). These negative impacts touch upon people’s welfare and health, social cohesion, culture and identity – values that contribute to the functioning of society but which elude monetary valuation.

     

  • The Majority of Americans Recognize the Climate is Changing (sustainableutah.wordpress.com)

 

October 26, 2013 - Posted by | environmental health | ,

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