We all know how hard it is to break a habit. If breaking personal habits are so challenging, it's no wonder that societal habits feel nearly impossible to work through. And yet, as health care professionals, we know that despite personal challenges, patients must get rid of certain bad habits in order to overcome poor health. The same goes for the consumer and lifestyle choices we make on a societal level. So many of these choices - from recycling to energy sources - have impacts on the environment and, therefore, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. Climate change is an outcome of our poor societal choices. From wildfires to heat-related deaths, to rising rates of asthma and vector-borne diseases, our actions are contributing to our own health problems. Health professionals can play a tremendous role in the effort to prevent further environmental damage, by conveying these environment and health connections to the public. As Climate for Health leader Kathy Gerwig writes in the San Francisco Chronicle article below, the risk factors of climate change include our "overdependence on fossil fuels and rising rates of air pollution. The severity of these threats may be at dire levels, but there is still time to make a difference."
By Kathy Gerwig I August 26, 2015
As more people begin to talk about climate change as a serious health issue, doctors, nurses and other health professionals will have an important role in helping people understand how a warming planet might threaten their health.
Clinicians can be a trusted voice of authority in the increasingly cacophonous public discourse on the subject. There is something else the medical community can bring to the discussion: our perspective on prevention.
Preventive health is based on the core idea of mitigating risk. Wouldn't’t we all prefer for our doctors to catch a potential health problem while it is still a minor annoyance rather than a full-blown disease? Doctors can reduce patients’ risk for diabetes by monitoring their blood-sugar levels and intervening with the right tools and resources if those levels begin creeping up to unhealthy ranges.
With counseling, interventions and clinical best practices, doctors and public health experts are moving the dial on smoking, obesity and some of our toughest lifestyle-related diseases. We can do the same with climate change, if we take the same preventive approach to curing it.
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