David Pencheon: Climate change – a new take on health co-benefits

David Pencheon There are so many very good reasons for clinicians to seriously address climate change. One of the more compelling reasons is the health co-benefits argument. The rationale here is that actions that tackle climate change (taking more exercise, using cars and less often, cutting out air travel, eating much less meat, etc…) will be good, not only to address serious climate change, but also for our immediate health (reduced risk of diabetes, obesity, colon cancer, CHD, better mental health, reduced transport trauma, less air pollution, etc…)

However, perhaps we should consider the benefit on the health care system as well. We all know that doctors over-estimate the benefits of health care interventions, under-estimate their risk, and over medicalise almost all human conditions. A better health care system will mean the default location of health care should be home, or at least in primary care – more convenient, and often safer. A better healthcare system has more empowered patients and communities, who are better informed, and more able to manage their long term conditions such as diabetes. Wait a minute, am I being guilty of this medicalising thing myself? Is diabetes really a “long term condition”? – perhaps it’s a just one of the many risk factors we all live with? The truth is that the health care system we all aspire to, where the public is empowered, people with real needs can get them addressed safely and conveniently, and where specialist health care is not necessarily delivered in specialist centres, consultants being actually consulted to support primary care – all of this is in fact a low carbon health care system with low carbon patient pathways

Action, good for health, good for the health service, and good for the future. Am I missing something? ..and can someone articulate these thoughts more convincingly…?

David Pencheon

Thanks to Dr Steve Laitner and Professor Sir Muir Gray

  • The logic seems exactly right-

    We’ve gotta get moving on some policy that incentivizes these positive actions you bring up that would help mitigate global warming. A cap and trade system that helps us integrate our efforts with those in Europe and elsewhere would do just that.

    Some silver lining to our current financial woes are the falling greenhouse gas emissions. See details at:


    Even China emissions are falling this quarter as electricity consumption falls a record in November. See details at: http://setenergy.org/2008/12/05/china-power-generation-falls-record-amount-climate-hope-alive/

    The real challenge will be how we continue emissions reduction once the economy picks up again.

    Onwards to sustainability,

  • Perfectly said!
    I agree with your statements, I’dd like to emphasise some important vie-points, reagarding the influence of climate change on “reduced risk of diabetes, obesity, colon cancer, CHD, better mental health. You must know, as BMJ Editors and Reviewers know very well, that Quantum-Biophysical -Semeiotic Constitutions (e.g., diabetic, dislipidemic, ATS, Oncological Terrain, with relative Inherited Real Risks) really exist. The can be bedside recognized with the aid of a stethoscope.
    For instance, individuals not involved by Oncological Terrain (or positive for OT, but without colon cancer INHERITED real risk) will never suffer from colon cancer, in spite of environmental well-known risk factors. In fact, these risk factor may act upon the relative INHERITED Real Risk!

  • Hi there.

    We are a non-profit organization aspiring to inform people of just your vision. As a previous commenter said, policy needs to change. A side project of our alliance is initially called ‘Sustainable Policy Institute’.

    At the moment there are some draft ideas here: http://gov.vegclimatealliance.org

    The main objective is to help policy makers inform citizens about the health dangers of eating meat and the benefits of vegetarianism.

    Would you or anyone you know be interested in collaborating with climate scientists and politicians to make this a multidisciplinary success?

  • Make that ‘Sustainable Policy INITIATIVE’.