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Healthy Planet UK conference: is climate change bad for your health?

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Ilaria Bertini reports on a recent conference in London that sought to uncover the health effects of climate change.

Is climate change bad for your health? This question was discussed at University College London (UCL) on Saturday during an event co-ordinated by student network Healthy Planet UK.

As explained by Andy Haines, professor of public health and primary care at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, many diseases are sensitive to changing temperature. Examples include malaria and diarrhoea, while less rainfall in poor countries might mean less water to maintain healthy levels of hygiene.

Heatwave-related deaths, such as those throughout Europe during the 2003 hot spell, are another piece of the jigsaw that illustrates the risks that climate change poses to human health. Hotter temperatures also mean that people are less able to work.

Other deadly effects of climate change on human survival are related to the availability of food crops, with malnutrition still the main cause of child death in developing countries. The majority of crops grown globally end up feeding livestock, used to feed countries in the developed world.

Meanwhile, stunting in children linked to climate change is expected to hit 6-9 million in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Haines also stressed the possible future impact of flooding due to sea level rise and heavy rainfall, whose effects have been dramatically evident in the UK recently.

Stunning figures revealed that in 2000, more than 150,000 deaths related to climate change occurred, mostly because of malnutrition, diarrhoea, malaria and extreme weather.

So what does need to be done to save not just our planet but our people as well?

Haines argued that a global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was vital, as well as promoting a low-carbon economy in the housing, transport, food and energy sectors. These would bring substantial benefits to human health by reducing pollutants, encouraging active travel to reduce premature deaths caused by diabetes, depression and cardiovascular diseases.

At the Healthy Planet UK conference, chair of global health charity Medact, David McCoy, said, “We knew 30 years ago that climate change was going to be a problem. Why did we do nothing to solve the problem? Why did we invest so little in renewable energy and let the BBC give space to climate denials?

McCoy stressed the connection between neoliberalism, climate change, politics and economics, arguing our economic system tends to create inequality and ease the overexploitation of humans and resources.

All that matters is something that can be priced and generate profits. If it can’t, it doesn’t have any value”, he said.

The effect of this has been a rising inequality, resulting in 50% of humanity living on below $3.25 a day, with a surprising increase in the wealth of rich people after the 2008 financial crisis.

McCoy added that he was sceptical that the current social and economic system would be able to take efficient action against global warming. He said an alternative development paradigm was needed to oppose “corporate capture”, which eases monopolies and oligopolies. He also called for an “intellectual property rights regime” that limits progress in science and renewable energy.

Professor of climatology at University College London Mark Maslin said that the threat of climate change, together with an increasing population and increasing demand of food, water and energy, represented the “perfect storm”.

All of or agendas have to take into consideration that extra 2 billion of people expected by the end of the century”, he said.

Maslin criticised the idea that people in poor countries are to blame for pressure on natural resources as they are said to have many children.

The idea of poor countries having a lot of children producing emissions is wrong because again, it is down to developed countries and especially to their consumption”, he said, adding that often women are able to control their family size thanks to education.

The food issue was highlighted also by Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University’s Centre for Food Policy. He stressed that food strictly relates to diseases and argued that “our food system has been amazingly unsuccessful.”

One of the reasons for this, he said, lies in the much-believed myth of the 50s and 60s that if we produce more food, more intensively, public health will improve.

Lang said that the food system needs to be reorganised, from land use to products arriving on supermarket shelves. Animal-sourced food needs to be reduced, he added, to reduce fat intake and related diseases.

Robert Biel, professor of political ecology and urban agriculture at UCL development planning unit, said that producing our own food, something often promoted by the Transition Towns movement, would mean more democratic, accessible and sustainable food.

But food and climate are not the only elements that would affect human health in the future, if climate change is not tackled.

Rachel Aldred, responsible for a course in transport planning and management at the University of Westminster, said we have created a car-dominated system” of transportation. This has led to car-centric policies, the degradation of the environment and an increasing number of respiratory diseases, while cyclists face a “hostile environment” in our biggest cities.

Aldred said that cities need to be more democratic when it comes to the accessibility to public transport, and more friendly to active travellers.

It is widely agreed that climate change will have unpredictable consequences on the environment and the economy – yet global action has been slow and public acceptance of the science is often lacking. It is perhaps time to start shifting the debate towards the health impacts such a world will bring about – and the Healthy Planet UK conference was vital in encouraging this shift.

Further reading:

Pollutants may cause complications of obesity, study finds

Royal London: sustainable investors should consider health and safety

Why sugar could be next on ethical investors’ list of exclusions

‘Alarming’ rise of cancer in developing world expected

Healthy eating and obesity should be key considerations for sustainable investors

Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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Environment

How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool

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eco-friendly pool for home owners
Licensed Image from Shutterstock - By alexandre zveiger

Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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