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Welcome to PSR's Environmental Health Policy Institute, where we ask questions -- then we ask the experts to answer them. Join us as physicians, health professionals, and environmental health experts share their ideas, inspiration, and analysis about toxic chemicals and environmental health policy.


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How can we integrate scientific evidence into our climate and energy policy choices?

Posted by Molly Rauch, MPH on January 13, 2011

Global warming will profoundly affect human health, and could endanger our very survival. Our changing climate is already negatively impacting public health and is predicted to have widespread and severe health consequences in the future. The flooding of coastal areas due to sea level rise will lead to mass migration, which is historically linked to poor living conditions, malnutrition, the spread of infectious diseases, and war. Changing weather patterns is predicted to decrease and redistribute arable land worldwide, leading to malnutrition and famine. Worsening air quality will increase asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, heart attacks, and other debilitating chronic diseases. Flooding caused by extreme weather events will increase outbreaks of diarrheal diseases, and the warming climate may expand the range of insect-borne infections such as malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease.

Reliance on fossil fuels for energy production drives global warming. This reliance also drives many serious public health problems. Cars, trucks, and power plants emit toxic chemicals into our air, contributing to asthma, respiratory disease, and heart disease. Mining, drilling, and power plant waste disposal degrade the quality of our streams, rivers, lakes, oceans, and groundwater supplies, contributing to cancer and reproductive disorders. Power plants emissions and other industrial processes continue to contaminate the global fish supplies, contributing to developmental and neurological disorders. This is a powerful confluence. The patterns of resource use and consumption that drive global warming also drive many of our most serious chronic health problems. Shifting those patterns will reduce the public health burden of pollution and inhibit the progression of global warming.

In the debate about how to act on this confluence, science has been trivialized. Near-consensus of the scientific community has been portrayed as political convenience. What will it take to turn scientific awareness into rapid, precise policy action? How can we integrate scientific evidence into our climate and energy policy choices?

The views expressed in these essays are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Responses: Steven G. Gilbert, Barb Gottlieb, H. Patricia Hynes, Edward Maibach & Matthew C. Nisbet, H. Steven Moffic, Barbara H. Warren

Steven G. Gilbert
The challenge of integrating scientific evidence into climate and energy policy choices and then taking action stems from two problems: 1) climate change is not an immediate and tangible crisis and 2) we live in a democracy. Read more »

Barb Gottlieb
The physical evidence for climate change has been accumulating for decades. So has the scientific documentation. Why then do so many people not believe that climate change is real? Read more »

H. Patricia Hynes
An historic crossover took place in North Carolina in 2010: the cost of electricity per kilowatt hour generated from photovoltaics (PV), after steadily falling for decades, rivaled that of nuclear power. After 2010, PV electricity is projected to be less expensive in the state than that of nuclear, with a trend of rapidly divergent costs between the two energy sources. Read more »

Edward Maibach & Matthew C. Nisbet
The public health implications of climate change are already soberingly clear, at least to the small number of experts who have carefully studied the issue. Read more »

H. Steven Moffic
From antiquity, philosophers and theologians have thought that we are not always rational creatures. They assumed that we are fundamentally driven by our passions, most strikingly shown during falling in and out of love, and that reason by itself is often too weak to control those drives. Read more »

Barbara H. Warren
Policy making at the Federal level has been frustratingly bogged down with political agendas that have virtually halted the implementation of a progressive- and solutions-oriented clean and renewable energy bill. Read more »


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