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Feature Climate Change

Opportunity knocks: health wins from action on global warming

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 25 November 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4947
  1. Ian Roberts, professor of epidemiology and public health
  1. 1London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London
  1. ian.roberts{at}

Will health make it on to the agenda at next month’s United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen? Concerned that the links between fossil fuel energy use and human health are being overlooked, Ian Roberts talked to England’s chief medical officer to find out what he thinks doctors and health services in high income countries could be doing. He also canvases expert opinion from Bangladesh, where many people are already experiencing the health effects of climate change

Evidence of the health benefits of living an environmentally sustainable life continues to stack up. It is clear that we need to use less fossil fuel powered transportation and do more walking and cycling, and that we must consume fewer animal products, which contribute to climate change through methane emissions and deforestation. Since physical inactivity and animal fat consumption are major killers, the benefits of sustainable living seem obvious. But what is less obvious is how health professionals can communicate this to the wider world—to climate change policy makers and to the public. It seems like the health sector has the only good news story in the whole climate change catastrophe, but it is keeping it to itself. How can we tell it? I met with Liam Donaldson to hear his thoughts, but the chief medical officer was lukewarm on the prospect of any easy wins.

“I think this is a classic example of where people just approach the subject with a great deal of commitment and passion and don’t perhaps think about a more organised and orchestrated approach to getting where we want to get,” he said.

“Doctors can play a big part by pointing out the win-wins, making it clear what health has got to do with it, because certainly when I talk to environmentally based ministers in my travels they …

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