The BMJ special issue on the climate emergency
As the 2022 UN climate change conference (COP27) approaches, this week’s special issue of The BMJ focuses on the climate emergency, its impact on health, and the power of hope as a driver to achieve change.
In an editorial to launch the issue, public health expert, Professor Howard Frumkin, with editors Kamran Abbasi, Sophie Cook, and Juliet Dobson argue that hope is “a powerful driver to achieve change” in the face of government and corporate inaction to mitigate the climate crisis.
They warn that the climate crisis threatens not only physical health but mental health and wellbeing too, particularly among young people, often promoting a sense of despair, hopelessness, and sealed fate.
Yet there is longstanding evidence that hope is “an important tool to protect wellbeing and foster activism in the face of adversity” and they suggest taking inspiration from young activists “who are harnessing hope to drive positive change.”
And while they recognise that hope will not solve the deep seated problems or realities that humans face, they say it is “an indispensable asset in tackling the climate crisis.”
Also in this issue:
No need for a trade-off between sustainability and the cost-of-living crisis
The cost-of-living crisis should not be an alibi for dropping measures to achieve net zero, argues Professor Michael Marmot.
He says government action in four key areas – housing, food, work, and transport – will not only address the fuel poverty crisis, but will also help tackle the longer term issues of sustainability and health equity.
“Sustainability, achieving net zero carbon emissions, and advancement of health equity can, and must, go together,” he writes.
Electric cars alone are not the answer to a healthier, zero carbon world
A rapid transition to electric vehicles is needed but will not on its own solve transport related health problems or achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions fast enough, argue James Woodcock and colleagues.
They say a holistic approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to transportation is required, and that there is an urgent need to imagine a future where the car, as a privately owned, one-size-fits-all mobility solution does not exist.
Time for a global economic reset with planetary health at its core
Kent Buse and colleagues say a wellbeing economy focused on planetary health should be top of the COP27 agenda.
They argue that the use of gross domestic product (GDP) as a metric of successful governance is “problematic as it doesn’t account for the depreciation of the biosphere and the harmful impacts of economic activities, nor does it take account of insecurity, lack of social cohesion, and inequality.”
Instead, they call for a global economic reset with alternative metrics of progress that assess policy and investment against criteria concerned with the holistic wellbeing of people and planet.
Addressing the challenges of climate related migration and displacement
We must prepare health systems for rising numbers of people on the move, argue Kristie Ebi and Robert McLeman.
They say all forms of climate related migration will present challenges in coming decades, and call for greater investment in disaster risk management, response, and prevention across all nations and communities.
“Climate change is amplifying the drivers of migration and displacement, negatively affecting population health and putting additional strain on health systems,” they warn. “Additional investment is needed now to support these vulnerable populations and communities.”
Happiness that doesn’t cost the Earth
It’s time to ask what really makes us happy, and whether that needs to cost the Earth, says Stuart Capstick at the Centre for Climate Change Research.
Wellbeing has conventionally been pursued through increasing income and greater consumption of goods and services. Yet higher levels of income and consumption aren’t necessarily associated with greater happiness – and are among the strongest drivers of greenhouse gas emissions.
As such, he argues that some of the most valuable uses to which energy and consumption can be put are to meet people’s needs, quality of life, and personal happiness efficiently and equitably.