Taking care of health and the planet at the same time is possible, say scientists – 04/04/2022

In case you still believe that the climate crisis is a matter for the future, that it doesn’t affect you directly or that there is nothing you can do about it, the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released today (4) by UN (United Nations) proves the opposite. Among many topics addressed, the document called Climate Change Mitigation addressed the relationship between health and the environment.

It is important to emphasize first that the report, in addition to showing that the current lifestyle based mainly on the exaggerated emission of greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon, is out of control, brings an important charge of optimism – that is, if let’s act now.

According to the scientists who drafted the document (which featured 60,000 comments from expert reviewers and government representatives and more than 59,000 scientific articles cited), there is a brief and rapid window of opportunity to limit the Earth’s warming to 1.5 °C by 2100. For this, numerous actions are mentioned that governments and individuals and legal entities need to take so that this maximum warming, according to the goals of the Paris Agreement signed in 2016, becomes a reality.

Some of the actions mentioned are based on associating concern for the environment and zero carbon emissions with activities that can also benefit health.

According to the IPCC, health benefits can be realized from improvements in air quality through the transition to renewable energy and active transport (eg walking and cycling); switching to low-cost, low-meat, plant-rich diets; and green buildings and nature-based solutions, such as urban infrastructure with more green areas.

So what can I do?

The IPCC report shows that for many measures that need to be taken, governments need to act and make structural changes, such as creating more green areas and economic incentives for sustainable energy. However, the document also points out that individual changes, when adopted by many people, can indeed help reduce emissions of gases that warm the planet.

In this way, here are some tips given by scientists to improve your health and help take care of the environment:

1) Use less fossil fuels

In your day-to-day activities, what do you do that uses a lot of energy? This question can be a first step for you to assess how much you can reduce your use of energy from fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

According to the World Health Organization, about 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide are attributed to air pollution. Fossil fuel burning mitigation actions not only reduce air pollution, which is good for the environment, but also generate significant health benefits, preventing premature deaths, lung cancers, heart disease, asthma exacerbations, respiratory symptoms, etc.

2) Use low carbon vehicles

You may be asking yourself “what vehicles are these?”. Low carbon vehicle is a way that the IPCC has found to group all forms of transport that either do not emit any type of greenhouse gas, such as walking and cycling, or that emit low carbon such as public transport. Making use primarily of modes of transport that encourage physical activity, in turn, promotes physical and mental health benefits and improves air quality.

3) Decrease consumption of foods of animal origin

Without proposing the adoption of veganism or radical vegetarianism, the report recognizes that foods of animal origin can be important culturally and for the health of some people. However, he admits that shifts towards a diet with more plant-based foods — in line with a reduction in food waste — can provide climate change mitigation along with health benefits.

For the cultivation of cattle, to cite just one example of food of animal origin, large pastures are needed, which can cause deforestation and release CO2. In addition, livestock release methane, another component of the greenhouse effect — for the Paris Agreement to be met, methane emissions must fall by 45% by 2050.

For health, a diet with more vegetables, fruits and grains is also excellent. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicated that people who adopted this diet had a lower risk of developing heart disease. See more benefits here!

4) Cultivate green areas

In addition to the green areas of parks, there are also areas for urban agriculture. Its benefits include reduced cardiovascular morbidity, improved mental health, increased birth weight and increased life expectancy. The report further states that urban agriculture, including urban orchards, hedge gardens and vertical farming contribute to increasing food security and promoting healthier diets.

Green areas in the city, according to the IPCC, are essential for less polluted air and for the temperature in urban centers to become milder.

All these actions help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which, in turn, help the environment, and which are also allies of health, and have yet another benefit: economic. Reducing cases of respiratory problems or those linked to poor diet is good for the economy of countries, as it reduces hospital admissions. This money can, for example, be used for other health investments.

We need to understand that preventing the climate crisis from escalating is not just better for the environment, for our safety and health. It’s also cheaper than not doing it and trying to deal with its irreversible impacts.

Nina Seega, Research Director for Sustainable Finance at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

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