LAST month, the World Health Organisation declared climate change ‘the single biggest health threat facing humanity’. It warned that global warming would lead to escalating physical and mental health problems.
The signs are already there. A 2018 Belgian study found a positive relationship between temperatures rising above 21ºC and admissions to emergency rooms. This reinforced the findings of a 2003 French study which examined data from 16 European countries and linked a continent-wide heatwave to 70,000 additional deaths over the summer.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has linked air pollution with an annual 1,300 premature deaths in Ireland.
Small changes to our daily lives can have positive effects on both our environment and our health. “Typically, what is good for you is good for the planet,” says Dr Ana Rakovac. Here are some tips from Irish Doctors for the Environment.
1. Choose walking or cycling over travelling by car when possible. It will cut your carbon emissions and help you burn more calories, with benefits for your physical and mental health.
2. Reduce your meat intake and eat more plants. A 2021 study published in
found that eating more plants and less meat reduced the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as stroke, heart attack, and heart failure by 16%.
3. Switch to a more sustainable energy provider.
4. Ask yourself if there is an alternative to burning solid fuel in your home. “Solid fuels introduce particle matter into the house and the outside environment, contributing to air pollution,” says Rakovac.
5. Cut back on your use of plastics. One simple way of doing this is by avoiding buying fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish that are packaged in plastic.
6. Choose quality, long-lasting items of clothing instead of fast fashion that you are likely to wear only a few times before it has to be thrown away.
7. Advocate for greener-based policies where you can. For example, if people use plastic or disposable cups in your workplace, suggest colleagues bring in their own cups from home instead.
8. Talk to family and friends. Dr Aoife Kirk’s parents weren’t interested in the environment until she started to discuss it over the dinner table. “Now they eat far less meat and recycle much more,” she says.
9. Put pressure on local politicians to prioritise the environment. “It’s the biggest issue of our time,” says Rakovac. “If we don’t do something, our grandchildren will have harsher lives than we do. So, ask candidates what they intend to do about it. This isn’t a question of party politics. It’s about survival.”
10. Join a group or sign up to IDE’s monthly newsletter at www.ide.ie. It’s got tips for behavioural change as well as activities you can join nationwide. “It’s easy to feel paralysed with faced with a challenge like climate change,” says Kirk. “Working with others can help with this and so can making small changes. Such small changes can have a significant cumulative effect.”