Our energy is our health. In generations past, when our planet seemed much bigger and our population much smaller, powering our lives with fossil fuels appeared a reasonable idea. But even a century ago, soon after coal became the world’s predominant energy source, we learned that byproducts of burning fossil fuels harm our health.
Since the early 19th century scientists have understood that greenhouse gases keep our atmosphere warm enough to support life as we know it and that adding more greenhouse gases, and in particular carbon dioxide, would promote further warming of the planet.
Burning of fossil fuels, that began in the Industrial Revolution, has increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by more than 30% and with it the average global temperature has climbed 1.3°F (0.7°C). The overwhelming majority – some 97% of 3,100 surveyed climate scientists – believe that human activities are the cause of this warming.
Although this increment may seem small, it can have dramatic effects upon our health. The extreme heat wave of 2003 in Europe, which killed tens of thousands of Europeans, was twice as likely to occur given the greenhouse gases added to our atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. The increased heat energy that greenhouse gases trap in our atmosphere has also started to affect the water cycle resulting in greater risks for floods and droughts.
Because of these effects, and others, climate change strikes at the pillars of what keeps us healthy: adequate food, safe and sufficient fresh water, clean air, and freedom from certain infections that may intensify, or arise anew, in the wake of natural catastrophes.
About This Program
The Center’s Climate, Health and Energy Program educates doctors, the scientific community, policymakers, industry representatives, community leaders and the general public on the connections between our energy choices, climate change and human health in order to foster healthy solutions for a sustainable future.
Under this program, the Center completed the first comprehensive look at energy choices through the health and environmental lens in the report "Healthy Solutions for the Low Carbon Economy: Guidelines for investors, insurers and policymakers," followed by the first life cycle assessment on the economic, health and environmental costs associated with each stage in the life cycle of coal - extraction, transportation, processing, and combustion.
The report "Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal" found that the "hidden costs” of coal effectively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh making renewable energy like wind and solar very economically competitive.
Understanding that physicians are the most trusted source of information about human health, the Center partners with organizations such as the American Medical Association to educate healthcare professionals about the health risks climate change poses. Four continuing education classes were offered over the past two years in Maine, Virginia, Illinois and Florida. In addition, the Center released a joint statement with former president of the AMA, "Climate Change Endangers Public Health in the United States," that was carried by the Huffington Post.