Individual Action is Not Enough

The Canadian chapter of the World Wildlife Federation produced this cool video/commercial:

Most people try, to at least some degree, to take steps to help the environment. And these small changes, when summed across the whole population, are significant. But still, the collective action of individuals can only do so much — government and industry need to be on board, too. Unfortunately, in the United States, leadership from the federal government has been lacking (and at times, actively impedes) so state and local governments and industry have had to take their own steps. There is some hope, though, that this will change when the Obama administration takes office (I hope to write more on this in a later post).

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Happy United Nations Day!

UN flag
Flag of the United Nations. Source: Wikipedia.

Today, 24 October, is United Nations Day (wp), the anniversary of the U.N.’s charter entry into force. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered the following remarks (emphasis mine):

Message for United Nations Day

The world is changing in the United Nations’ favour — as more people and Governments understand that multilateralism is the only path in our interdependent and globalizing world. Global problems demand global solutions — and going it alone is not a viable option. Whether we are speaking of peace and security, development or human rights, demands on our Organization are growing every day.

I am determined to ensure that we make progress on the pressing issues of our time, step by step, building on achievements along the way, working with Member States and civil society. That means strengthening the United Nations’ ability to play its role to the fullest extent in conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. And it means invigorating our efforts for disarmament and non-proliferation.

At the same time, we must redouble our efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in Africa. I will seek to mobilize political will and hold leaders to their commitments on aid, trade and debt relief.

And I will continue to do all I can to galvanize global and decisive action on climate change. The United Nations is the natural forum for building consensus on this pressing issue, as we saw in the high-level event held a month ago on the margins of the General Assembly. The many leaders who attended sent a clear message to the Bali negotiations in December under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: this is no longer business as usual, and we must build momentum across industrialized and developing countries to ensure results. Protecting the climate for present and future generations is in the common interest of all.

If security and development are two pillars of the United Nations’ work, human rights is the third. I will work with Member States and civil society to translate the concept of the responsibility to protect from word to deed, so as to ensure timely action when populations face genocide, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity.

Finally, we must transform the United Nations itself. We must adapt to meet new needs and ensure the highest standards of ethics, integrity and accountability, so as to demonstrate that we are fully answerable to all Member States and to people around the world.

We will be judged in the future on the actions we take today — on results. On this United Nations Day, let us rededicate ourselves to achieving them.

The United Nations has indeed been placing an emphasis on climate change. It is certainly the logical venue where the nations of the world will decide how to tackle this global threat. And the United Nations’ Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been instrumental in documenting, clarifying, and publicizing the science behind climate change (for which it recently shared the Nobel Peace Prize).

In a world where the consequences of our actions extend far beyond political boundaries, let us hope this next year brings improved international cooperation and collaboration to protecting the common good and the health of our planet.

Climate Change Affects the Whole World

Many people in developed nations like the United States understand that global warming (anthropogenic climate change) is a problem, but don’t appreciate how it will affect them. There is sometime a perception that poor areas in the tropics will face flooding and disease, but that it is not a significant matter for developed nations.

However, global warming will cause (and is causing) effects worldwide. A few may be positive, but they are grossly outweighed by the negative effects. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, recent Nobel Peace Prize winner) has been working on its Fourth Assessment Report, and recently released the Working Group II (“Climate Change Impacts, Adaption, and Vulnerability”) portion of it. It details the predicted effects of climate change for each continent over the next century.

It’s a thorough report, but daunting for the casual reader. However, Time magazine has created a great (Flash-based) interactive graphic simplifying and summarizing the predictions:

Effects of Climate Change
See full-sized, interactive version.

It’s great to see efforts in making this information quick and easy to grasp.

Americans Agree Global Warming Is a Major Problem; Major Action Needed Now

The BBC released a major poll of 22,000 people in 21 countries (both developed and developing) showing attitudes towards global warming. The United States is often considered to be lagging behind other nations, but this poll suggests that most Americans agree that we need to take major steps urgently; perhaps the nation’s failure to act is more of a reflection of its leadership and not the will of its people.

Below is an excerpt from the poll regarding the attitudes of those in the United States:

Americans agree with most other world publics that human activity contributes significantly to climate change and that major steps should be taken immediately to address the problem. A majority also supports a deal that would provide financial assistance and technology to developing countries that limit their greenhouse gas emissions. Seven in 10 Americans (71%) say that human activity is “a significant cause of climate change.” By a margin of 59 percent to 33 percent, Americans say it is necessary to take “major steps starting very soon” rather than “modest steps over the coming years.” Only 6 percent say “it is not necessary to take any steps.” Three-quarters (75%) agree that “because total emissions from less wealthy countries are substantial and growing, these countries should limit their emissions of climate-changing gases along with wealthy countries.” Similar numbers (70%) support a deal that would provide developing countries with financial assistance and technology in return for an agreement to limit their emissions. Nearly nine in 10 (89%) Americans say they have heard a great deal (59%) or some (30%) about climate change. (source, PDF)

Also, a recent LiveScience article summarized the results of several new polls in the United States:

Nearly three-quarters of Americans are willing to pay more taxes to support local government efforts aimed at mitigating global warming…Americans were willing to pay more money in property taxes, home costs and utility fees to support initiatives that would encourage people to use less energy and get that energy from alternative sources…concern for the environment is growing among Americans and bolder action is desired…Americans are pessimistic about the current state of the environment and disapprove of how the government has been handling environmental issues…a majority of Americans believe that society must take action to reduce the effects of global warming, partly by enacting a new national treaty that would require much more drastic reductions in carbon dioxide than those required by the Kyoto Protocol (which the United States never ratified)…

“Nearly half of Americans now believe that global warming is either already having dangerous impacts on people around the world or will in the next 10 years—a 20 percentage-point increase since 2004. These results indicate a sea change in public opinion,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale Project on Climate Change, in response to the findings of the earlier poll.

I find this level of awareness, concern, and motivation promising, at least.

The full text of the BBC poll is available as a PDF file. Or you may read Inel’s post for an HTML (web) version.

(via Inel)

Earth to Humanity: Blue Man Group Highlights Global Warming

The creative and popular Blue Man Group (wp) has been entertaining audiences with their quirky, lighthearted performances. But Inel drew my attention to a great video they released some time ago highlighting global warming and the environment:

This version is a video of them performing live; Inel featured a slightly different version intended for TV:

What a great video, and a nice strong stand to take. See “Earth to America — Blue Man Group” at their official web site for a downloadable version.

Energy and Health: Spotlight on the Lancet‘s Series Covering Climate Change and More

As a human and a resident of planet Earth, I care about my home and the environment, and for the other life that shares it with me. But as a physician, I have a special interest in examining the relationship between the health of our planet and that of human health; I have a strong desire to promote public health. And therefore I am indebted to Inel for bringing my attention (via a comment and a subsequent blog entry) to a wonderfully important series of articles in the Lancet covering the many-faceted relationship between energy and health. At the least, I feel that all physicians are obligated to read this series.

The Lancet is one of the world’s premiere medical journals (along with the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the British Medical Journal). In publishing this series, they are taking on a large, complex issue with significant public health implications that previously have not drawn much attention. Strategies to help ameliorate the problem are well–thought out. The series covers so much detail I’d like to devote a series of my own posts to discuss and analyze them.

Editor-in-chief Richard Horton writes the introductory comment, entitled “Righting the Balance: Energy for Health”:

The current debate about the impact of human beings on our planet—especially with respect to climate change—is one of the most important issues of our time. But that debate is presently unbalanced and too narrow. It neglects a far larger set of issues focused on energy—and health.

Energy is a critical, yet hugely neglected, determinant of human health. Health is an important enough aspect of energy policy to deserve a much greater influence on decisions about our future personal, national, and global energy strategies. Society suffers from a disordered global energy metabolism. Energy is as important as any vaccine or medicine. 2 billion people currently lack access to clean energy: they live in energy poverty and insecurity. International institutions, such as the World Bank and WHO, have repeatedly failed to make the connection between energy and health in their country work.

(continued — free registration required)

Dr. Horton gives examples of changes that we need to make at these three levels, such as changing travel habits at the personal level, designing new urban infrastructure at the national level, and controlling greenhouse gases at the global level. This introduction sets the stage for the in-depth analysis to follow.

While physicians should certainly read these, I also encourage others in the allied health professions as well as anyone with an interest in public health to read them as well. They are written in clear language and do not rely on advanced medical terminology or concepts. I will update this post with links to additional posts on the individual articles as I write them.

Source: Horton, R. “Righting the balance: energy for health”. The Lancet 2007;370:921. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61258-6. Full text available; free registration required.

I Need to Wake Up

“I Need to Wake Up” is the beautiful song Melissa Etheridge wrote for An Inconvenient Truth. It is the only time a song from a documentary has won the Academy Award for Best Song.

It is a wonderful song, catchy and meaningful. The lyrics are beautifully apropos, expressing horror and shock transforming into determination.

I remember the first time I watched An Inconvenient Truth. I knew about global warming before that. We’d learned about it in high school, and in recent years there were increasing reports in the scientific literature of its effects on weather systems and ecosystems. But yet, very few people appreciated the magnitude or urgency of this problem. There can be little doubt that An Inconvenient Truth brought global warming to the public’s attention and has played a significant role in the current environmental movement.

Al Gore asked Melissa Etheridge to write a song for the film, and she agreed. After watching the film, she immediately felt moved to write the song, but wasn’t sure where to start. Her partner suggested she write about how the film made her feel. Etheridge asked herself, “What do I want to hear? I want to hear somebody else who feels the way I feel, which is ‘My God, have I been sleeping?’ ”

I think a lot of us had been sleeping.