It can be easy to slide into a “doom and gloom” mentality when discussing climate change and health. With so many aspects of climate change adversely affecting human health, turning the tide can be daunting.
But at Thursday’s Climate & Health Meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta, there was cause for hope — and even some celebration. During a series of special keynote addresses, climate health leaders spoke about what’s being done to fight back against climate change. As it turns out, it makes more than good health sense to take the steps to improve climate health — it makes good financial sense, too.
Sir Andy Haines, MD, MBBS, FRCGP, FFPHM, FRCP, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, led the charge. “Many of the solutions to climate change, to preventing climate change, are within reach,” he said. “If we could implement them, they would take us away from this dangerous trajectory that threatens humanity.”
Of course, steps such as reducing fossil fuel use make sense for public health. But they also make good financial sense. Former Vice President Al Gore, the keynote speaker and lead organizer for the meeting, noted that retrofitting existing buildings saves money in the future, but builds jobs now. “That can’t be outsourced,” he said.
Plus, those health benefits save money. Carbon policies can be structured to favor those in poverty, lifting them up economically while fully realizing the costs of using fossil fuels, as the International Monetary Fund estimates that $5 trillion is used to subsidize global use annually. Even this will save money in the long run — perhaps even as much as 1,000 percent, Haines said.
The session also highlighted what’s being done well, particularly in the host city of Atlanta. Stephanie Stuckey, chief resiliency officer of Atlanta and the Rockefeller Foundation, noted that it behooves cities to look toward energy efficiency and improved environmental health, as a boom is coming: Half of the infrastructure cities will have and use by 2070 hasn’t been built yet.
In Atlanta, Stuckey and Mayor Kasim Reed have attended the Paris Climate Summit, and have established Georgia’s first city climate plan. Law enforcement officials drive energy-efficient “po-leaf” vehicles (that drew laughs), and to fight food deserts in the city, experts are focusing on hydroponic farming to offer fresh produce year-round.
“All of this is happening in the deep South,” Stuckey added. “This is not Seattle; this is not Berkeley. You can make change happen no matter what your political climate is.”