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climate change

Isobel Braithwaite: Taking bold steps to curb climate change

24 Jun, 14 | by BMJ

isobel_braithwaite_3At the end of May, US President Barack Obama unveiled new power plant standards, which are designed to cut pollution and curb greenhouse gas emissions. He should be applauded for this bold step in the right direction, and even more so for recognising and presenting it to the public as a public health policy, which will improve the health of all citizens—particularly children. Climate change is also a health problem. Speaking of the need for stronger standards, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gina McCarthy, has called climate change “the biggest public health challenge we face.”

Although carbon emissions are still considered primarily a matter for environmental policy, health considerations have been front and centre in this debate, and more so than with any previous set of energy policies. This reflects both the clear synergy between public health and climate mitigation, which is represented by measures to clean up our air, as well as the personal resonance of problems like smog and asthma for many citizens. more…

David McCoy: The science of climate denialism

26 Mar, 14 | by BMJ

david_mccoyIn a previous posting, I argued that it is important for everyone to have some understanding of climate science—which is why Medact produced a summary and discussion of the latest UN report about the physical science of climate change. I also questioned the scientific understanding of Owen Paterson, minister for environment, food, and rural affairs, following his ill judged comments on the UN report. But why is there is so much scepticism and denial about the evidence of anthropogenic global warming? more…

David McCoy: Why doctors need to take climate change seriously

4 Mar, 14 | by BMJ

david_mccoyOwen Paterson is the minister for environment, food, and rural affairs and therefore leads on government policy with regards to global warming. But his reaction to the latest report on the physical science of climate change by the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) raises questions about his fitness to play this vital role. If his attitude towards the care of the planet were transposed to a GP caring for a patient, would I advise the patient to find another GP?

The reason for bringing this up is because Medact has produced and released a summary and discussion of the IPCC report. We did this because the IPCC’s own summary of their 2000+ page report was hard to read. So we produced an alternative that we hope is more accessible—but without “dumbing down” the complexity of climate science. more…

David Pencheon: Climate change—knowing so much and doing so little

22 Jan, 14 | by BMJ

David PencheonAlthough I like to think I am a rational person who can consider most issues objectively, I know this is rubbish. I am biased, prejudiced, and a prisoner of my experience, although perhaps acknowledging this is better than denying it. Not easy, as the ability to deny is probably our most powerful coping mechanism, and extremely useful for people like doctors who spend much of their working lives dealing with constant uncertainty, suffering, and stress. There is only so much reality with which the human frame can cope, and many people do appear to be very skilled (maybe too skilled) at detachment, denialism, and clever ways of dealing with more than their fair share of pain, suffering, and death. Perhaps this explains why we sometimes seem so poor at understanding the effect of our behaviour and actions (or lack of them) on others. more…

Deon Louw: The doctor, the environmentalist, and the gospel of sustainable healthcare

15 Jul, 13 | by BMJ

deon_louwLet’s be honest. Lester Brown sounds like the name of a musician from the Deep South. In fact, Brown is an acclaimed scientist and I had the pleasure of attending one of his lectures. He has 25 honorary degrees and has published more than 50 books on how human systems (e.g. food systems) react to environmental and climate change.

Bearing these credentials in mind, I was surprised that Brown presented his audience with seemingly familiar ideas. He used the construct of supply and demand to explore global food scarcity. On the demand side he listed the pressures on grain supplies as: more…

Rachel Stancliffe and Mahmood Bhutta: Should doctors lead on sustainability?

1 Jul, 13 | by BMJ



Welcome to a new series of blogs on sustainable healthcare that will look at health, sustainability and the interplay between the two. The blog will share ideas from experts across the healthcare field, some of whom are speaking at a major European conference looking at Pathways to Sustainable Healthcare in September 2013.  More about the conference can be seen at

The GMC’s Good Medical Practice states that: “Good doctors make the care of their patients their first concern.” This is of course a laudable principle, and good doctors strive to ensure that patients are seen in a timely manner, that they are treated by appropriately trained staff, and that systems of clinical governance are in place to enable improvement. Yet we all know that we work within constraints, with these most commonly relating to financial or logistical constraints on service provision. However the evidence now makes it clear that those constraints should also include consideration of the wider impact of healthcare provision on the global need to care for the environment and to protect labour rights.   more…

David Shearman: The climate “tide” is still rising

25 Mar, 13 | by BMJ

My beautiful pictureTime and tide wait for no man published in the BMJ 10 years ago detailed a vital role for the medical profession in addressing climate change and was used in Australia to form Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) in 2001.

The article could be reprinted today with updated references as the current report card—except that the tide is rising faster. What are the causes for this apparent failure? more…

Richard Smith: Non communicable disease and sustainable development

13 Feb, 13 | by BMJ

Richard SmithThere is a sense that if you are not working at something that helps counter climate change (or climate disruption, as it should be called) then you are wasting your time. You are Nero, and Rome is burning. Those of us who work on non communicable disease (NCD) are “lucky” in that most of what needs to be done fits with reducing the harm from climate change. The time has come for the “NCD agenda” to be integrated with the broader “sustainability agenda,” and this was the focus of a joint meeting this week between the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Lancet. more…

Mike Knapton and Tom Pierce: Doctors should take a leading role in tackling climate change

11 Apr, 12 | by BMJ

The recent Cambridge University Leadership Programme looked at sustainable development in health services worldwide. It was an opportunity to hear the evidence and arguments which were both persuasive and alarming. The link between population growth and our reliance on a carbon-based economy, leading to rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the consequent changes in climate was compelling. This is relevant to healthcare systems, and the professionals that work within it, not only because climate change itself is having significant consequences on the health of populations, but because healthcare systems themselves have a significant carbon footprint. more…

David Pencheon: Death by consumption—again

30 Mar, 12 | by BMJ

David Pencheon

Tuberculosis used to be (and sometimes still is) the great scourge, causing death and disease on a global scale and changing the course of human history over millennium. It is often called consumption—partly because the disease seems to “consume” the body.

Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. The evidence strongly suggests that the biggest global health threat we now face is due to another sort of consumption: unfettered use and disposal of resources that leads to unmanaged climate change; something we understand much more that we care to admit, and certainly in enough detail to warrant much more action. But, as the Nobel Laureate Sherwood Rowland says, “What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions, if all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true.” more…

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