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



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

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2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage



Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker |

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018



Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art |

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly


Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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