Is the affluent West a global threat to our health?
The debate about climatic dangers has shifted now from doubt to inevitability. It is time for the business community to have a serious look on all these issues and formulate a people friendly economy
“The common ingredients of health and long life are:
Great tem’rance, open air,
Easy labour, little care”—Sir P Sydney
The heading might raise a few eyebrows but the truth, however unpleasant, has to be told in this instance since the health of the future generations of this planet is in real danger. The danger might even come earlier if something is not done on a global scale. The major player is the US. They might or might not be aware of this. Twenty-five per cent of the global emission of carbon dioxide, the most dangerous global warming gas, is produced by the US alone. Human activities are the main cause of global warming according to the report of the United Nations Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The main reasons for these changes are the burning of fossil fuels for energy at the present time and changing the earth’s surface constituents, mainly due to deforestation. The latter results in depletion of the necessary ingredients in the top soil that help to absorb or scatter the radiant energy which contributes to global warming. In addition, when air temperatures go up there could be vigorous cycles of both evaporation of water and precipitation producing more and more aberrations in weather.
While there has been some progress in this direction on a global scale, things have not moved at the necessary pace. The 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climatic Change (UNFCCC) has been ratified by more than 186 countries so far. Despite all this, if the US does not give the leadership in this direction there is no hope for mankind on this planet. I am an optimist and I hope something will come out but we have to wake up the sleeping giant before it is too late to see the writing on the wall. Unless we try and look for alternative energy sources that do not increase the greenhouse gases and alternative strategies to preserve and increase the forest land, there is no solution.
Health threats from all these are enormous, to say the least. If left alone the world will be the biggest mortuary in the next century. Large populations would be decimated by this threat of climatic change as well as by the therapeutic population control due to dangerous drugs and unwanted technology in medicine. The main threat to human health will be all over but more so in the poorer nations starved for resources. Water for drinking will be scarce and food for the hungry will dry up sooner than expected when the ambient temperatures go up. Vector-borne parasitic, viral, and bacterial diseases will go up exponentially as also the vascular killer diseases with the temperatures going up.
That apart, the threat to the very existence of many areas on the globe is very real. New York City might be under water. New Delhi will be snow covered. Many of the coastal belts in many countries and the island nations would be submerged. In an imaginative movie, Day After Tomorrow, the picture depicted looks very gloomy. Even if that does not become a reality the picture could be pathetic. Even a slow rise of earth’s temperature would result in abnormal evaporation and precipitation that might leave in its trail devastations due to droughts, floods and stormy heavy downpour at unusual times and places resulting in loss of lives and property.
The disease picture might again change. Europe became free of plague after the mid-eighteenth century because of the cooling of that continent by a degree centigrade. Rattus rattus, the black rat, that carries pasturella pestis, the germ that causes plague, disappeared in that lowered temperature. If the temperature goes up now the same species might reappear and plague might be a new pandemic there. The present rattus novegenous in Europe, the white rat, is not capable of harbouring the plague bacillus.
As in any calamity it is the poorest of the poor that get hit the hardest. The cyclones in Bangladesh in 1970 and in 1991 killed nearly 300,000 and 139,000 people respectively whereas Hurricane Andrew in the US in 1992, which was equally ferocious, killed a meager 55 people. The poor have less coping capacity and their governments have money for other luxuries but there is no money for these calamities. The estimated number of hungry people in the twenty-first century, if the climatic change is not controlled forthwith, is estimated to be around 80-90 million, mostly in the poorer countries.
The subdued debate about climatic dangers by a few extremist environmentalists has shifted now from doubt to inevitability. David King, the chief scientist of the UK government, had recently stated that “climatic change is the most severe problem we are facing today—more serious than the threat of terrorism.” But nobody seems to talk about it, least of all our holy media. The media seems to be obsessed with terrorism all the time and have no time to tell the people that a greater threat is looming large. In a very lucid book edited by McMichael, published by the World Health Organization (WHO), the real threat is exposed threadbare. The book is titled “Climate Change and Human Health”. One could get the details from the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org from the WHO’s office.
The big names in business are also slowly waking up from their deep slumber. Recently James Wolfesohn, the World Bank president, alerted an important audience of world business leaders and other civil society groups about the real danger of the threat of climatic change. I hope that it would stir their conscience if they have one in the first place. Their greed has been the cause of all these problems for mankind. He lamented that the most important environmental debate was on the backburner of international deliberations on development. Any development that does not address this serious issue will only be destroying this world in the long run.
It is not that the medical profession has not been informed about it, but we in the profession have not raised any voice in this important area. Doctors are not trained just to make money. They are basically trained to keep the health of the public. The father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, did warn us adequately: “physicians should have due regard to the seasons of the year, the diseases which they produce, and to the state of the wind peculiar to each country and the qualities of its waters.” In the great Indian system of Ayurveda—the mother of all medical wisdoms—weather and climatic changes with seasonal variations are stressed as a vital part of the study of any disease as also in disease management. Lost in the jungle of the pseudo-science of modern medicine and its technology, we have lost sight of this important aspect. This is never taught in the medical school and, consequently, doctors do not take any interest in the environment.
No drug or technology company will be interested in funding any post-graduate activity in this area. Since medical education is mostly under the influence of drug company money even in the US doctors are oblivious to this.
In a hard-hitting editorial in the leading medical journal The Lancet captioned Medical Education is run with drug company money in the USA the journal warns of the grave threat to doctors’ integrity. Similar sentiments are expressed in another editorial in the leading American medical journal New England Journal of Medicine titled Is Academic Medicine for Sale? The writer laments at the present business atmosphere in medical establishment. Medical humanism demands that doctors become more human and humane. Earlier we act to stop the monetary economy’s madness to make profit at any cost-mostly at the cost of the poor man, the better for mankind.
Western drug companies also see that the drug prices go up all over the globe in the name of globalization and the poorer nations pay for their poverty with their poor people’s lives as a consequence. Life saving drugs have already become prohibitively expensive and are beyond the reach of even the middle-class these days. May I appeal to the business community to have a serious debate on all these issues and formulate a people friendly economy—call it what you will? It is also an urgent matter that alternative sources of energy are researched fast to prevent greenhouse gasses destroying our biosphere and the global ecosystem. There is plenty of hope in solar energy for a warm country like ours. Cold-fusion, where there is no radiation fallout, is our best bet. Natural bio-gas, as is done in an Indian village by a sarpanch, will go a long way in reducing fossil fuel burning. The prototype of domestic table-top cold fusion boxes is already ready for sale. The big business of nuclear fission aided and abetted by our ‘great’ scientists trying to scuttle its development with their usual weapon of saying that it is pseudo science even though it is researched by great scientific minds.
"God made the country and man made the town;
What wonder then, that health and virtue, gifts
That can alone make sweet the bitter draught
That life holds out to all, should most abound,
And least be threaten'd in the fields and groves?"-Cowper.
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, Chairman of the State Health Society's Expert Committee, Govt of Bihar, Patna. He is former Vice Chancellor of Manipal University at Mangalore and former professor for Cardiology of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London. Prof Dr Hegde can be contacted at email@example.com.)
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