Friday, January 6, 2012

Let's talk about the weather...

Patient: What do you think of a warmer climate for me doctor?
Doctor: Good heavens Sir, That’s just what I am trying to save you from!

Climate and health have been connected since the days of humoural medicine and probably before that, but the spectre of global climate change gives this cartoon from Punch (1901, Vol. 121 p.315) a whole new dimension.

A report produced by the UCL-Lancet Commission in 2009, described climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century”. Environment, nutrition and health are also key areas of research interest for the Wellcome Trust: it’s website states that “climate change has major implications for global health and nutrition – with impacts on food security, access to clean water and sanitation, population migration and the threat of an increased number of natural disasters.”

A number of recent additions to the Library collections reflect some of the interesting research that is being done in field of health and climate change. A report by the Institute of Medicine in the USA looked at the effects of climate change on indoor air and public health. Many climate change ‘hot spots’ lie in rural communities, and another new book considers the health of rural children, one of the most vulnerable groups. A book on climate change and human well-being considers the “psychological responses and mental health impacts that accompany gradual environmental change and extreme weather events, and explains how climate change exacerbates existing inequities.” What is striking about much of this research is the multidisciplinary nature of the work being done, which often includes education, policy, and development as well as scientific analyses of medical and health concerns.

Perhaps the multidisciplinary nature of the health related research reflects the wider context of the climate change debate. Some fifteen years after the Kyoto Protocol, certain new publications indicate that people are beginning to look back at the history of climate change. Several scientists have recently published personal accounts of being in ‘the thick of it’ in the climate change debates. Raymond Bradley really was at the centre of the controversy as he, along with Michael Mann and others, published the so-called ‘hockey stick’ graph in the journal Nature in 1998. His book about Global warming and political intimidation relates how he felt politicians and policymakers in the USA sought to discredit him and his colleagues, and shut down their work.

James Powell was a scientist on the ‘inside’ when it came to science policy. He was appointed to the US National Science Board by both Presidents Reagan and George W Bush and remained there for 12 years. His book – The inquisition of climate science addresses the question “why, when the scientific evidence for global warming is unequivocal, does only half the public accept that evidence?”

Inevitably the media had its part to play: Climate change and the media examines the changing nature of media coverage around the world from the USA, UK and Europe to China, Australasia and the developing world.

Several recent contributions to the climate change debate take a more pragmatic approach, and consider how progress on some of the concerns around climate change might be facilitated. A book on social science research looks at the issues around Engaging the public with climate change. This collection of papers make the case for why scientists and policymakers should engage the public on debates and decisions about climate change. Julie Doyle’s book: Mediating climate change looks at “practices of mediation and visualisation” in relation to the visual arts and climate change, and related issues such as meat and dairy consumption, and environmental activism.

Finally, in A perfect moral storm philosopher Stephen Gardiner considers the reluctant response to the challenge of climate change to be a result of various moral failings such as the temptation to ‘pass the buck’ onto future generations, and transfer costs onto the world’s poor. Inaction is facilitated by ignorance about science and international justice.

When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather

Samuel Johnson quipped. Judging by this range of books, it seems that these days, in health, science policy, social sciences, arts and philosophy, everyone is talking about the weather, or more accurately the climate.

Wellcome Image No. L0028080 from Punch magazine, published London 1901

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