Archive for December 2007

When it comes to being green, will you be naughty or nice in 2008?

From eco-conscious celebrities photographed in their Prius’ to Al Gore receiving a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on climate change, environmental awareness is in the air. This holiday season, even the Rockefeller Center holiday tree and the Times Square New Year's Eve ball got green makeovers and switched over to energy-efficient lighting.

So with all the talk of climate change and going green, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help.

As you make your New Year’s resolutions, here are some tips for how you can conserve energy and contribute to a healthier world and a healthier you in 2008 (and none of them involve joining a gym!)

  • Walk, bike, roll, jump, skip… Whenever possible, don’t drive. Use your body to get around instead. Not only will you burn less gasoline, but you’ll burn calories as well. And if you need to go farther than you can get on your own two legs, use public transportation.
  • Drive smart. If you do decide to drive, make good choices. Carpool if you can. Increase your gas mileage by keeping your tires inflated, getting regular tune-ups and driving the speed limit. And if you’re thinking about purchasing a car, choose a fuel-efficient vehicle. These strategies will not only help you burn less fuel, but they’ll also reduce air pollution and related negative health conditions like asthma.
  • Conserve energy. Lower your thermostat at night and during the day while you’re gone. You can do this manually or invest in an electronic thermostat that you program to automatically lower the temperature at certain times in the day. Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs — they’re a bit more expensive but last 10 times as long and will also keep half a ton of carbon dioxide out of the air over their lifetimes.
  • Turn off the lights. Your mom was right — there is no need to waste money and energy by leaving lights on in rooms when you aren’t in there.
  • Buy local. When shopping for food or other goods, try to buy things that were grown or produced locally. Goods that come from nearby don’t have to travel as far to get to you — and that means less fuel burned in transportation. And as an added perk, locally grown food is often fresher, safer and better for you.
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances. Flex your consumer muscle when buying appliances by choosing “Energy Star” energy-efficient models. You'll save a lot on electricity and be doing your part to conserve energy.
  • Purchase green power. If you live in an area where you’re able to choose your electric company, try to pick one that generates a good portion of its power from wind, solar energy and other clean sources.
  • Speak out. The momentum is shifting and now is an important time to let your elected officials know that you demand policies that will steer our communities and our nation toward important solutions to climate change.

These are just some of the many simple steps you can take to do your part to reduce climate change. And as an added benefit, these tips and energy-saving strategies allow you to save some green while being green!

Here’s to a happy, healthy and green 2008!

Making the connection

At this year’s APHA Annual Meeting, it was truly inspiring to see the level of interest and attention given to the connections between climate change and our health. The themes that emerged during the meeting are the themes that the public health community needs to keep at the center of discussions as we create events and materials for this year’s National Public Health Week, April 7–13.

Here are some of the themes I took away from the Annual Meeting:

Climate change is fundamentally a public health issue: In the present and not-so-far future, changes in local and regional climates will impact the work of the public health community in many ways. These range from our efforts to help residents prepare for more extreme heat, rainfall, hurricanes and wildfires, to the need to improve our surveillance techniques so climate change-related disease variations don’t fall off of our radars. The long-term consequences of unchecked growth in greenhouse gas emissions — the main contributor to climate change — have the clear potential to transcend modern public health concerns and threaten human societies more broadly and fundamentally.

Climate change will compound disparities in health on local, national and global levels: Globally, we are already seeing a disproportionate burden of climate change-related health impacts being borne by those countries that have contributed the least to the climate crisis. This can be clearly seen in this graphic of climate change health impacts in the year 2000 from the World Health Organization report, “Climate Change and Health: Risks and Responses.”

Note: DALY – or Disability Adjusted Life Years – reflects the total of years of life lost due to premature death plus the years of healthy life lost due to poor health or disability.

Climate change solutions can have both positive and negative public health impacts: Decreasing personal car use by increasing public transportation and physically active methods, such as walking and biking, is a clear win-win for public health: people get more exercise and emit less greenhouse gases. However some solutions, like increased use of the fuel alternative corn ethanol, may have unintended adverse public health consequences, such as increasing pressure on water resources.

The public health community must get involved in the major policy decisions being made about transportation, energy, housing and agriculture to ensure the public’s health is appropriately considered and protected.

— John Balbus, MD, MPH
2008 National Public Health Week Advisory Committee member and director of the health program at Environmental Defense

This week in climate change: Looking beyond Bali

The Bali conference ended last weekend with a compromise that many hope will pave the way for a global approach to climate change. Some of the top news stories this week explored the agreement reached by conference attendees and looked at future directions for global negotiation.

Among the news stories following up on the conclusion of the Bali conference reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

- In U-turn, U.S. agrees to global warming deal

- Climate Change Conference in Bali Officially Kicks Off New Round of Negotiations

- Simple numbers to shape climate talks

- China urges U.S. on climate control

Got questions about climate change and health?

Washington Post staff writer David Brown will be online Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss a new article on how climate change impacts our health.

He will be joined by Jonathan Patz, an associate professor and director of the Global Environmental Health Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Patz is also a member of APHA’s Environment Section and serves on the advisory committee for the 2008 National Public Health Week.

This article is the latest installment of the Washington Post "In the Greenhouse" series about the science behind climate change.

Log on tomorrow to join the conversation and get involved in this important issue.

This week in climate change: News on the serious consequences of climate change

This week's U.N. conference in Bali has focused the world's attention on climate change. And as leaders work on coming to an agreement on how to address this global issue, experts in the field continue to warn of the dangers of doing nothing. Several news stories this week reported on how climate change has the potential to seriously effect the health and well-being of communities around the world.

Among the news stories related to the consequences of climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

- Climate-related diseases likely to cause health setback: WHO
- UNICEF: Without action, children in poor countries will be very hard hit by climate change
- Climate change could heighten tensions, conflict worldwide, UN agency says
- Climate change: More heat waves, tornadoes
- WHO: Health sector needs to wake up to effects of climate change

The Bali is in our court now

It’s a bit ironic that a place with paradise-like scenery — blue lagoons, lush tropical forests, postcard ocean views— would be the backdrop for such dire warnings. But that’s the case on the Indonesian island of Bali this week, where representatives from more than 200 nations have gathered to find common ground in fighting climate change.

With more than 11,000 attendees, the United Nations Climate Change Conference is the largest U.N. climate change meeting ever held. Organizers are hoping the meeting will lead to a “political breakthrough.” Their goal is an international climate change agreement that includes the United States, China and India.

Bali attendees are also looking at ways to help people adapt and prepare for the effects of climate change with a particular focus of helping poorer countries cope with the effects of climate change. Another key issue is how to continue the work of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the total greenhouse gas emissions of 40 industrialized nations grew to an all-time high in 2005.

Recently, Australia joined the more than 170 nations that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. That leaves the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter, the United States, as the only industrialized nation to oppose Kyoto. The United States does have representatives at the Bali meeting, but news reports have them fighting mandatory greenhouse gas cuts.

On a positive note, 15 members of the U.S. Senate wrote a letter to the UNFCCC executive secretary in December. They reported that “change is happening now, and even bigger changes are on the horizon.” The letter referred to a Dec. 5 vote to send the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act to the full Senate for consideration. The bill would greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electric power plants, manufacturing and transportation.

As public health workers, how can we help push the U.S. climate change movement forward?

Welcome to National Public Health Week 2008

For more than 10 years, communities around the country have celebrated National Public Health Week to help protect and improve the public’s health. As part of that goal, we choose one issue to rally around each year. This year we will focus on what many say is one of our biggest challenges: Climate change.

While we’re still learning about all of the connections between health and climate change, we know human health will be affected. As our environment changes, so does our health — and the outlook is far from rosy.

Here in the United States, changes in our climate are causing more severe weather events. These extreme weather conditions, such as heat waves, high winds, snow storms, floods and hurricanes, have the potential to dramatically affect the health and safety of both individuals and communities. Changing ecosystems that allow for emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases like dengue or malaria change the spectrum of disease risks that affect populations. In poorer parts of the world, drought or floods often force people to move away from lands that can no longer produce enough food. Hunger and malnutrition often come as a result. In addition, contamination of drinking water results in outbreaks of diarrheal diseases on a large scale, with resultant dehydration and death.

The threats of climate change to the health of people around the globe are real. The issues can sometimes seem too big to address, but we have the power to slow events down and at the same time create healthier people in healthier communities.

Across the country, public health workers are making the connection between the way we live our lives, our impact on the planet and the planet’s impact on our health. More and more we believe what’s good for the planet is good for our health. By pointing out these links, we can help Americans make better choices and lead lifestyles that are healthier for them, their communities and the climate.

Please join us as we work to create a healthier planet and celebrate National Public Health Week, April 7-13, 2008, with the theme "Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance."

— Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of the American Public Health Association