Intended for healthcare professionals


Doctors and climatic change

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 26 November 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:1384
  1. Richard Smith

    Action is needed because of the high probability of serious harm to health

    Doctors are failing to understand that the world is changing around them in a way that must fundamentally alter their thinking about health and disease. They have not grasped that the world may be approaching the point at which it can no longer support the growing population and its need for food, water, and energy. If doctors are serious about their commitment to the health of populations they will need to pay a great deal more attention to overpopulation, environmental destruction, and militarism. This apocalyptic message came earlier this month from Professor Tony McMichael of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at a conference on climatic change and human health organised by Medact, the British organisation that concerns itself with the major threats to global health and security.

    The greenhouse effect is caused by gases in the upper atmosphere trapping long wave radiation and so raising the temperature of the earth's atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is one of those gases, and its concentration has risen exponentially since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In 1800 it was about 280 parts per million, which it had been for tens of thousands of years, but now it is about 340 parts per million and still rising. By 2100 it will lie somewhere between 420 and 2240 parts per million. We know, explained Kathy Maskell from the Meteorological Office, that it will rise, but how far it will rise …

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