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Climate change is a health emergency

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 03 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2546

Re: Climate change is a health emergency

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, human activities are driving climate change, the effects being felt in all parts of the world. The further global warming will bring increased scarcity of food and fresh water, extreme weather events, rises in the sea level, loss of habitable land, mass human migration, conflict and violence [1]. Overpopulation leads to poverty, overcrowding, pollution of air and water [2]. Together with increasing unemployment and food shortages, these factors will decrease the quality of life for great numbers of people [3]. The ongoing industrial development of the previously underdeveloped countries is precarious because environment protection measures are observed less rigorously there and also because of the unplanned nature and large scale of this process.

All kinds of ecological damage and depletion of non-renewable resources are proportional to the population size [4,5]. Food production cannot increase infinitely without soil depletion, desertification and deforestation [6]. Humankind can choose between reduction of the population growth by diminishing the birth rate and of raising the death rate [7] by means of famine, epidemics or war, which were usual throughout history. Humanity is in a demographic dead-end street [8], while no realistic solutions have been proposed so far. Such solutions would require a revision of some ethical principles and propagation of new ones, in particular, that no population group, ethnic, confessional or otherwise defined, may obtain any advantages because of its numerical size or growth. On the contrary, those who have had many children should logically live in more crowded conditions for some period. Acknowledgement of this principle would be a basis for globalization and mutual trust.

High fertility was propagandized during the global conflicts and the Cold War to replenish military and manpower resources. Necessity of birth control has been obfuscated by conflicting national and global interests: population growth has been regarded as a tool helping to sovereignty and economic advance. Even today, there are appeals to increase the birth rate, accompanied by misinformation about allegedly severe complications of contraception and abortions [9]. Global birth control would require investments and managerial efforts; all simpler and less expensive solutions would be however less humane. As a source of financing, oil and gas revenues, sometimes spent in a wasteful and unproductive manner, could be used.

Labour productivity is growing; few people can cater for many, while unemployment is increasing. In the past, similar conditions were terminated by wars and pestilence. This has not happened long since, and we are waiting to see what happens, while the population is growing.

However, there are many things to do. Great projects could be accomplished by a globalised mankind to improve the life of billions: irrigation facilities for drought-stricken lands, production of hydrogen as eco-friendly fuel, nuclear power plants to reduce the consumption of fossil hydrocarbons. Chernobyl accident has been exploited to strangle the worldwide development of atomic energy, the cleanest, safest and practically inexhaustible means to meet the global energy needs [10]; but it was necessary to prevent the spread of nuclear technologies to the regions, where conflicts and terrorism could not be excluded. However, today there are no alternatives to nuclear energy: unrenewable fossil fuel will rise in price, contributing to the overpopulation in oil-producing countries and poverty elsewhere. Combustion of hydrocarbons causes air pollution and accumulation of greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming [11]. In future, nuclear fission must be replaced by fusion, which is intrinsically safer [12]. However, worldwide introduction of nuclear energy will become possible only after concentration of authority by a powerful international executive. It will enable construction of nuclear power plants in optimally suitable places notwithstanding national borders, considering socio-political, geographical, geological and other conditions, which would prevent accidents like in Japan in 2011 [13]. Scientific research must be revitalized and purged of scientific misconduct, centrally planned and controlled to avoid parallelism, unnecessary experimentation and dangerous developments [14-16]. There are many breathtaking topics for research, which however can be permitted only if the humankind is reliably unified. These measures would create work for many people. Moreover, should the birth rate decline in the future, it means that the workforce is at its maximum today, which provides an opportunity to accomplish great projects. Therefore, propaganda should popularize the image of hardworking people, which must become a pattern of identification for youth.

As for the Ukrainian question, discussed in [17], the bulk of the international aid will flow into the corruption channels. The transferral of Crimea to Ukrainian SSR in 1954, extracting it from Russian territory, was Nikita Khrushchev's voluntarism; it was hopeless from the beginning, among others, because of linguistic reasons. The overwhelming majority of Crimean people are Russian-speaking. For Russian-speakers, the Ukrainian language is a regional dialect. Nobody would voluntarily learn it and teach children. Considering the forthcoming globalization, the only alternative to Russian Crimea would be English-speaking Crimea. It can be reasonably assumed that the whole Ukraine except Galicia (West Ukraine), would vote for unification with Russia: because of economical and linguistic reasons. There is however a reason why the power should not be displaced to the East: incapability of Russian government to eradicate corruption [18]. The main thing is to avoid a new East-West conflict. All of us will be losers, even the militarists, as it was 100 years ago. What is urgently needed is lawfulness and mutual trust.

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Competing interests: No competing interests

10 April 2014
Sergei V. Jargin
Peoples' Friendship University of Russia
Clementovski per 6-82, Moscow, Russia