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A new era for public health?

May 15, 2009

globalwarming“Why the hell do you keep banging on about climate change,” the exasperated voice shouted down the phone. “It’s all a load of nonsense dreamt up by the greens which you’ve bought hook, line and sinker without any questioning. And anyway if it is happening it won’t be a problem in our lifetime.”

Some “conversations” leave you wondering why you got out of bed that morning. While I’ll defend planners and the principles of sound planning to the end, unfortunately some people in the sector just don’t get it.

Yet one group of very important people now admit they too have neglected the issue. The latest edition of The Lancet – probably the world’s leading medical journal – says health professionals “have barely begun to engage with what should be the focal point for their research, preparedness planning and advocacy”. Now doctors see climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”.

The Lancet calls for a “new public health advocacy movement” to usher in an unprecedented era of co-operation between widely divergent spheres such as disease, food, water, sanitation, shelter, settlements, extreme events, population and movement.”

While it is great to welcome such auspicious company to the climate change table, in one sense this is a historical merry-go-round. Much of the driving force behind the emergence of the planning profession came from the social crises of urbanisation and the industrial revolution. The very problems outlined by The Lancet were the same challenges present in the mid-19th century. This evokes a couple of aphorisms. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. richie79 permalink
    May 28, 2009 4:12 pm

    Now doctors see climate change as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”.

    Unfortunately doctors and their organisations have an increasing tendency to view every passing fad or cause for concern that comes down the river as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”, a symptom of a proliferation of such organisations coupled with a headline-grabbing culture that rewards apocalyptic prose with the oxygen of publicity and research grants.

    Before climate change it was binge drinking, then there’s the concurrent war on obesity that will supposedly have us all living shorter lives than our parents despite empirical evidence to the contrary, and we as planners are supposed to be experts in these ever-changing fads (witness the increasing willingness of some London authorities to restrict hot food takeaways on public health grounds despite a lack of robust evidence to link their proliferation with morbidity).

    The fact remains that having largely tackled the major killer diseases and conditions that bedevilled our forebears we live in an age of comparitive health, longevity, enlightenment, stability and yes, despite recent events prosperity; and one entirely at odds with these attempts to create endless mountains out of some dubious researcher’s molehill du jour. Legislators and policy makers must take more care than ever to ensure they fully weigh the cost to individual choice against the knee-jerk desire to ‘tackle’ every perceived threat with proscription and prohibition.

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