Helping our health while healing the planet: experts identify nine things we can do to combat climate change and improve wellbeing.
UK climate and health experts have come together to launch a series of recommendations for boosting human health in tandem with combatting climate change.
This follows a major United Nations report highlighting the dire risk to human mental and physical health due to global warming, as well as the devastation to nature and biodiversity.
Experts at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London collaborated with the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change on the nine key tips for improving our own health and that of the planet, issues that are tightly interconnected.
Launched in Food Waste Action Week, the tips include eating up leftovers, as UK households waste 4.5 million tonnes of edible food every year – enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall 90 times or save the average family £720 per year.
They also include switching to a largely plant-based, balanced diet, as a high meat diet produces 2.5 times more greenhouse gas emissions than a vegan equivalent, while almost three in ten UK adults are obese, according to the recent National Food Strategy published ahead of World Obesity Day.
"For too long, the health burden of climate change has not featured in the climate narrative, and it is time for this to change." Dr Elaine Mulcahy Director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change
The initiative follows the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recent report, which explained that 40% of the world’s population are "highly vulnerable" to climate change impacts, from rising temperatures to heatwaves, droughts, flooding, storms and wildfires.
The report also highlighted the negative impact that global warming is having on mental health and emotional wellbeing because of stresses including loss and damage to homes and livelihoods.
The nine tips for improving human health in conjunction with planetary health have been published as an online feature, animation and leaflet.
Suggested actions include calling on elected officials to make it easier for communities to lead healthier and more environmentally-friendly lives, and taking action to protect natural spaces, which are essential for biodiversity and mental wellbeing, and also help to protect us from the impacts of a warming planet.
Staff and patients at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust will have the opportunity to learn about the 9 things and the preventative health strategies associated with them that help to tackle climate change, improve health and quality of life, and support people to cope with the growing issue of eco-anxiety.
Professor Martin Siegert, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, said: "I think most people know we need to cut carbon emissions globally to avoid dangerous climate change, but people are less aware that cutting carbon has lots of other benefits, not just for the climate. The most important of these is the significant benefit to human health. After all, the reason we are concerned about climate change is that it will affect people in serious and adverse ways.
"A healthier planet will lead to healthier people, and the nine things you can do – formed by climate and health experts – will get people on a journey to help our planet's future and the lives of those living both today and in time to come." Professor Martin Siegert Co-Director of the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London
"By stopping emissions, we clean the air we breathe and make respiratory illness less likely. By eating a plant-based diet and taking exercise we reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease and cancer. By protecting and enjoying nature and biodiversity we can help our mental wellbeing. A healthier planet will lead to healthier people, and the nine things you can do – formed by climate and health experts – will get people on a journey to help our planet's future and the lives of those living both today and in time to come."
Dr Elaine Mulcahy, Director of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, said: "The health of the planet and its people are closely interlinked. The impacts of climate change on health are felt both directly and indirectly, such as through heat-related deaths, respiratory problems, food insecurity, disease transmission, and inequalities.
"We have adapted our lifestyles to live in a world with polluted air, highly processed foods, a high dependence on motorised travel, and a lot of time spent sitting down. This has come at a health cost.
"For too long, this health burden of climate change has not featured in the climate narrative, and it is time for this to change. We need to integrate the protection of human health and a just transition into all climate change actions, and to value the health gains of a sustainable, fair, healthy world."
Dr Bob Klaber, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust’s Director of Strategy, Research and Innovation, said: "The climate change crisis is recognised as a health emergency. Making that link is vital. We want to help our staff and patients to learn how to make changes that will improve both their health and the planet's health, such as active travel, reducing meat and dairy intake and getting out in nature more. We are thrilled that this next instalment of the Grantham Institute's 9 things will help us do just that, through using this interactive, accessible content."
Dr Emma Lawrance, Mental Health Innovations Fellow at the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London, said: "Climate change is hurting our health and wellbeing. For example, children born today will experience seven times as many heatwaves as their grandparents. But thankfully, by taking action together, such as by following the tips in the 9 things, we can all be part of creating a better future that is healthier for us and the planet, while signalling to leaders the desire for urgent, aligned policies. Even better, taking action in our own lives and in our communities helps our own mental health and wellbeing by connecting us to our values, each other and the natural world.
"Working together we can transform societies in ways that benefit our health and wellbeing at the same time as safeguarding the health of ecosystems and future generations." Dr Emma Lawrance Mental Health Innovations Fellow at the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London
"Hearing further confirmation in the recent IPCC report of the critical urgency of action to safeguard our global futures may understandably raise a range of thoughts and feelings, including anger, fear, overwhelm, or even despair and denial, impacting sleep and daily life.
"Inaction from leaders is a key source of this anxiety. Working together we can transform societies in ways that benefit our health and wellbeing at the same time as safeguarding the health of ecosystems and future generations."
The 9 things you can do for your health and the planet is the third in the Grantham Institute’s 9 things series, following the popular 9 things you can do about climate change and 9 things you can do to protect the natural world resources.
Article text (excluding photos or graphics) © Imperial College London.
Photos and graphics subject to third party copyright used with permission or © Imperial College London.
Human Resources Division
The Grantham Institute for Climate Change
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