Medical students as the critical link to address climate change

Climate Change

(European Commission, 2017)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mr. Kevin Ardon Casco, a medical student in his sixth year of medicine at National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) . He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Medical students are a large and potentially powerful global community, and through local and international cooperation we can be a critical part of the solution to climate change. Climate change represents one of the greatest threats to humanity, and in particular, to human health.

There is clear evidence that the main cause of global warming is greenhouse gas emissions from human-related activities. In addition, increases in air and ocean temperatures, air pollution, and melting ice resulting in rising sea levels, as well as more frequent and severe extreme weather events, all have serious effects on the environment and on human lives and health.

Climate change will greatly affect access to clean water and air and to food and shelter, with particularly negative effects on children, women and the elderly on a global scale. It will also increase respiratory diseases such as asthma, vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue, contaminated water diseases, and malnutrition. This will lead to significant increases in healthcare costs and human mortality.

As medical students, we should be the link between the scientific evidence of climate change’s impact on human health and our communities. Because of our training and status, we are in a unique position to advocate for changes. In our universities, hospitals, and communities, strategies to address climate change are too often overlooked. This represents an opportunity for medical students to advocate for implementing sustainable solutions that benefit the environment and human health.

On a patient-level, we can suggest the use of sustainable transportation such as walking, cycling or public transit, which would both reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigating the long term human health impacts of climate change) and increase physical activity (directly reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease).

On a societal-level, we should advocate for public policies that benefit the health of people. One way to do this is to point out that by linking health and energy policies, we can both improve the economy and address climate change and its associated health impacts.

Creating a carbon tax, for example, would increase the price of high-pollution fuels, forcing companies moving to cleaner energy more rapidly; revenues of this carbon tax could be used to reinvest in public health and education, further developing countries and creating long-term positive economic outcomes. In addition, we should advocate for governments to cut their fossil fuel subsides and to instead use that money to invest in cleaner energy sources and increased healthcare coverage. This would positively impact the environment and healthcare by increasing disease prevention and, consequently, improving the overall health of the population.

Being a medical student is not only about reading and memorizing books and information, it is also about improving our communities, and on a larger scale, the world. From our patients to our governments, we must work together to be the bridge to a greater state of wellbeing for our communities, our environment, and for the world.

About the author

Kevin Ardon Casco is 22 years old and in his sixth year of medicine at National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH). As a child, he was captivated by the plight of endangered species, and since then his passion for nature and the environment has only grown. As a high school student he developed a campaign to raise climate change awareness in his school, emphasizing ways to be more eco-friendly in one’s personal life. Mr. Ardon Casco is currently the national exchange officer in for the Standing Committee on Professional Exchange (SCOPE) of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA).

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Comments

  1. I would have hoped that medical students, having had some training in science and the scientific method, would look beyond the headlines and the computer models to discover for themselves that there really is nothing untoward happening with the various climates around the globe. To think that a minor trace gas like CO2 can act as a thermostat for the earth is naive in the extreme and it cannot be backed up by science. It is a well mixed gas, just 0.04% of the atmosphere and does not sit as a blanket stopping the escape of heat from the earth’s surface.

    https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/EnergyBalance/page4.php

    “Temperature doesn’t infinitely rise, however, because atoms and molecules on Earth are not just absorbing sunlight, they are also radiating thermal infrared energy (heat).

    The amount of heat a surface radiates is proportional to the fourth power of its temperature. If temperature doubles, radiated energy increases by a factor of 16 (2 to the 4th power). If the temperature of the Earth rises, the planet rapidly emits an increasing amount of heat to space. This large increase in heat loss in response to a relatively smaller increase in temperature—referred to as radiative cooling—is the primary mechanism that prevents runaway heating on Earth.”

    • Kevin Ardon says:

      Thanks for commenting Dennisa and apologies for the delayed response.

      The article you use in your argument is based on an observational study, which does not use the scientific method. Physics are well explained in that article but it never discussest the heat-trapping effect of greenhouse gases over outgoing energy. What they do mention is:

      “Most heat escaped from areas just north and south of the equator, where the surface was warm, but there were few clouds. Along the equator, persistent clouds prevented heat from escaping.” So if clouds prevent heat from escaping, can you imagine what a persistent huge layer of greenhouse gases can do?

      Earth’s climate is changing rapidly compared to the pace of the natural variation in climate that has occurred throughout history. To support this statement, there is plenty of evidence from different research groups around the world. For example, 15 of the last 16 years have been the warmest years on record in centuries. Also, instrumental measures from both land and oceans show that temperature have increased 1.0 °C in the last 100 years. Long-term climate records indicate that this rise has happened faster than it did in the previous 1,700 years.

      The hundreds of studies that have documented and proved changes in temperature, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, heat waves and extreme weather precipitation lead the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to conclude that it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. Over the last century, there are no alternative explanations supported by evidence that are either credible or that can contribute more than marginally to the observed patterns. These are just some major facts, but I’m sure you can find even more scientific evidence to help you understand more about climate change. Thank you for engaging in the discussion and for your comment.

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