3 Ways Fighting Climate Change Is Really Good For You
When people talk about climate change, they tend to focus on the bad: rising sea levels that could wipe out tens of thousands of homes along America's coast lines, temperature shifts that trigger stronger storms like tornadoes, hurricanes, and even blizzards, and the economic impacts of dealing with such disasters.
But very rarely does anyone ever talk about how combating climate change can actually be good for you. Reducing the greenhouse gases that contribute to changing the planet can mean a much healthier, and longer, life for you, write physicians in the most recent issue of the British Medical Journal. Last October, the editors of that prestigious medical journal convened a conference to talk not just about the health impacts of climate change but also the health benefits of fighting it. Here are the three ways they came up with that would have the biggest impact on both our lives and the planet:
• Walk more, weigh less, cut your gas bill, and clear the air. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 3.2 million deaths from non-communicable diseases, such as heard disease, diabetes and obesity, could be prevented worldwide if people just led less sedentary lifestyles. The major contributor to those lifestyles? Our cars. Simply by walking or biking more, we could avoid a whole host of diseases that are lessened, or even completely prevented, by physical activity, including depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and breast and colon cancer.
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Obviously, with gas nearing $4 a gallon, your wallet would love you if you walked or biked more, but the planet will thank you too, considering that transportation accounts for nearly 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But the benefits go beyond that. In the U.S., there are 11 million motor vehicle accidents each year that involve two cars or a car and a pedestrian, bike rider, or fixed objects, with about 36,000 resulting in death. Studies in Copenhagen and Shanghai, two notably bike-friendly cities, have shown that accident fatality rates were 40 percent lower among people who biked compared to those who drove, even after accounting for the risk of road injuries among cyclists.
• Eat less meat, save your heart—and a few trees. Factory-farmed meat causes a host of health problems. Chickens and hogs are routinely fed antibiotics to make them fatter, which makes antibiotics in humans less effective and increases levels of bugs like e. coli and salmonella. Not only that, after slaughter, chicken meat is frequently "enhanced" with the minerals potassium and phosphorous, which are suspected of increasing rates of chronic kidney disease. Eating too much meat has been linked to heart attacks and stroke and an increased risk of premature death.
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Cut down on that meat, and save your heart—as well as our air quality. Reducing animal product consumption by 30 percent could reduce the amount of heart disease by around 15 percent. Also, agriculture contributes to 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, many of which come from raising animals. Not only do animals produce methane (a potent greenhouse gas), raising them usually means cutting down trees to create more land for them to breathe. Deforestation accounts for 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, all those animals eat corn, and the cost of corn is rising due in part to unpredictable rainfall patterns and droughts.
• Advocate for better building standards, and you'll get sick less often. Energy-efficient buildings designed with appropriate ventilation are not only use less energy, the generation of which can be horribly polluting, they're healthier. Homes that are well ventilated lead to fewer allergies and lower rates of asthma in residents. In hospitals, good ventilation can mean fewer community-associated infections, such as tuberculosis, measles, and chicken pox, as well as respiratory diseases like the flu that can reach epidemic proportions, according to WHO data.
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