In December of this year, the United Nations will hold a global scientific and political conference on climate change. More than 190 nations will gather in Paris to negotiate a worldwide agreement on how to address climate change. The meeting has the potential to be the most important climate gathering in history because it can set the course for climate action into the future. As Climate for Health has pointed out in our daily (weekday) blog over the past year, their are innumerable ways that climate change influences human health. Just this week a new study reveals that climate change may even affect people's sex lives. As Peter Byass writes in his article below, "It would be wrong to pretend that it is possible to exactly understand all the ways in which climate and weather have affected, are affecting, and will affect human health on a global basis. The required data, theoretical frameworks, and computational capacity are simply not there. Nevertheless, there are enough observations to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the health consequences of weather and climate change need to be taken seriously." As we approach the Paris meeting, health care professionals need to continue to drive home the talking points that highlight the significance of climate change for public health. For pointers on how to effectively communicate on climate, see our report.
By Peter Byass I November 10, 2015
As a public health researcher in an increasingly interdisciplinary world, I sometimes feel quite envious of scientists whose research fits neatly within the confines of a laboratory bench. I don’t mean to imply that lab research is easy – but at least in the lab the potential effects of all sorts of unknown global forces can generally be controlled. Any kind of population-based health research, however, shifts the scientific considerations into the realm of real-life issues and variabilities, which can be difficult to understand even in the most rigorous randomized controlled trial environments. But if we move on to an interdisciplinary mix of climate change and public health science, the unknown unknowns really take on a life of their own.
So why try to do anything at all around this complex nexus of climate and health? The world’s seven billion people inhabit a fascinating but fragile biosphere – the thin layer around the surface of the planet – which for millions of years has been a constantly changing zone but has remained within limits that have been consistent with the survival of a staggering diversity of life-forms. I am not a climatologist, and I would not presume to get into considerations of what may happen to the Earth’s biosphere in the next million years or so. But what I do know, as a health researcher, is that every living creature is somehow dependent for survival on the physical environment it finds itself in, and this applies not least to Homo sapiens.
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