One thing that has been on my mind, and surely it must have crossed yours recently, is the fact that our planet’s climate, and the environment, are having an increasing impact on how healthcare and society functions. The frequency of extreme weather events is plain to see and often experience (heatwaves, fires, storms, floods, droughts, etc.). Important to note: these events, if isolated and thought of separately, have happened throughout history, stretching back decades and centuries. However, when seeing them collectively, the absolute increase in number of events, and the frequency of “extreme” weather, that’s the key to seeing our current problem more clearly.
Climate change, coupled with environmental degradation and pollution, have been thought of as issues for politicians to deal with, and for manufacturers and large-scale industry to rein in, and for energy generators and tech companies to innovate away from its abuse. And while all these points are very true and totally valid, I will rhetorically ask: which segment of the population do you think is at the forefront of dealing with climate change and the environment? I’d argue that healthcare systems are the first line of defense and most immediately impacted.
Our environments and the climate we live in are major factors in determining our individual health status. Our bodies, or organs, tissues, and down to our cells, are each tasked with doing whatever is needed to continue functioning in the environment and climate we exist in. humans and all species have developed, over many generations on the evolutionary timescale, a lot of impressive mechanisms that help them survive, and thrive, in the wide range of environments and climates that exist on this planet. Additionally, we’ve learned and advanced medical and societal innovations, which also assist us individually and collectively, in living and contributing to life on this planet. However, there are limits to what the body can handle, and currently limits to what biomedical advancements have been achieved in assisting life beyond certain conditions.
Our bodies and our knowledge cannot overcome prolonged extreme heat, or cold, or dehydration, or unrelenting chronic assault of pollution, or any of the many factors that our changing climate and degrading environment challenges those bodies at greater and more extreme frequency. Biomedical researchers and active healthcare professionals must continue to support actions designed to lower the negative impact of climate change and deterioration of our environments (local and global). Health impacts must be front and center in all discussions related to combating climate change. Some conversations about climate change can make it sound that the most affected people will be individuals living near coastal lines, or in faraway patches of land on earth that are not easily located or well known to most North Americans, Europeans, and people living in more developed nations. This is simply a false viewpoint. Climate change and the deterioration of the environment is already leading to more death and more debilitating lifestyles in every corner of the map.
These past few months, the Covid19 pandemic, has shown the world what a fast-expanding global health crisis can do to negatively impact how the world functions. Climate change and the constant deterioration of our living environments will be even more impactful than Covid19. Biomedical researchers and professional healthcare members have a major role to play in shaping the change narrative, and implementation of key actions to protect humanity from the worst outcomes of a hard climate, and a detrimental environment where we live. The world has been warned about climate change for decades, but maybe it needed a global healthcare crisis like the Covid19 pandemic to demonstrate a bit of, and stimulate our imagination to see, how bad things can get. Let’s hope the 2020’s is the decade that finally sets the world on the right direction to preserve what we have left. It might be our last chance.
“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”
Mo is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, researching the connections between DNA damage, inflammation, and Heart Failure. Additionally, he serves in various committees to advocate for early career professionals and highlight research within the cardiovascular community. Early Career Social Media Liaison and Member of AHA Council for Basic Cardiovascular Sciences. Twitter @MoalkhalafPhD