Sometimes, I love my job.
As I mentioned the other day, a few weeks back I got the opportunity to see Prof. Jonathan Patz talking about environmental health. At work. For free. Thank you NSW Department of Health.
Prof. Patz was an excellent speaker – really engaging, articulate and knowledgeable. He talked a lot about climate change and its potential impacts on human health in the future, pointing out that the health of everything is interconnected – human health, wildlife health, agricultural health and the health of ecosystems. If we damage one through climate change, the damage will inevitably ripple through to the health of other sectors. It’s not rocket science – if we can’t produce crops as successfully due to extreme weather events and warmer temperatures, then of course we won’t be able to feed as many people – but the scale of the problem is often under-considered. There are about 1 billion people going hungry now and this could potentially double by mid-century.
Some of the impacts are less obvious though. For example, Prof. Patz discussed a study of malaria rates in and around the Amazon. Controlling for changes in population size, the rate of malaria has increased noticeably in deforested areas (I’m really sorry, he did have a statistic, but I didn’t note it down – from fuzzy memory, I think it was an increase of around 20 percent).
So, the short version that I got from that part of the talk was stop messing up the environment because you’re also messing up yourselves. Not revelatory, but still interesting.
What I found even more interesting though was his discussion on how governments could and should work better within themselves to improve human health and the health of the environment. For example, connecting departments of health, transport and environment to work together to reduce obesity and improve air quality. Patz also suggested that by increasing short-term expenditure on better transport systems that encouraged more people to ride and walk, the potential health benefits might lead to a long term reduction of public health expenditure (factoring in obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer, it doesn’t seem unreasonable). In his words, could the overall health benefits make combating climate change free?
It’s a big call, but food for thought at any rate. I’d be interested in your opinions.