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Click to launch presentation in a new window (plug-in maybe required)This is a multimedia presentation by Professor Hank Weiss, delivered Tuesday, October 02, 2012 at the Safety 2012 World Conference (47 min).

Adolescents warrant special attention. From a road safety perspective, they carry the largest crash and morbidity/mortality risk of any age group. This has led to considerable research and safety programs, but these efforts have plateaued in many countries and remain fixed within a road safety perspective. From a broader perspective, little has been done about the many non-traffic health risks related to teen driving (increased drug and alcohol use, anti-social behaviour, sexually transmitted infections, inactivity and obesity). From a sustainable transport perspective, a contemporary imperative, teens are where the transition from non-driver to driver takes place; an opportune time for interventions to minimize environmental harms.

Professor Weiss introduces a new paradigm termed ‘mobility health’ to bridge the siloed domains of safety, adolescent health and sustainable mobility. In this passionate speech to an international audience, he advocates changing the current narrow paradigm of adolescent road safety to a cross-level/cross-disciplinary, more potent, timely and healthy vision of less driving through mobility modal shift from cars to active and public transport.

(Note: Links to publisher site for full access. Signin/paid access may be required without institutional subscription)

Are cars the new tobacco?
Margaret J. Douglas, Stephen J. Watkins, Dermot R. Gorman, and Martin Higgins
J Public Health (2011) 33 (2): 160-169.

“Public health must continually respond to new threats reflecting wider societal changes. Ecological public health recognizes the links between human health and global sustainability. We argue that these links are typified by the harms caused by dependence on private cars.”

Editors Note: This reprint is from Sharon Astyk’s blog (Casaubon’s Book). She’s not the first to make the connection between the now almost global car culture and huge public health and environmental costs, but in her indomitable style she says it succinctly and she says it well. A more academic piece with the same thoughts quantified was published a few months ago in the Lancet. [Woodcock J, Edwards P, Tonne C, Armstrong BG, et al. "Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: urban land transport", The Lancet, Volume 374, Issue 9707, Pages 1930-2114]

Sharon Astyk

One of the pleasures of blogging here has been the focus that this community has on issues of public health. Doing everything we can to maintain the health and well-being of populations through a shift into a different model of life is an issue that is deeply important to me – I don’t always agree with everyone who writes here on these issues (and, of course, they don’t always agree with each other ;-)), but I am struck with admiration of the degree of concern for the public welfare expressed by my Science Blog Colleagues.

Which is why I’m being so presumptuous (since I am a science writer, not a physician or medical researcher) as to suggest a new direction for my fellow bloggers who focus on public health issues. With any luck they will find that now that Andrew Wakefield’s false claims about vaccine-autism link are thoroughly discredited (for the bazillionth time – and can I just say how pleased I am, since I personally, as the parent of a child with severe autism, would like to know what actually *does* cause autism and we’re unlikely to find that out it by doing another 40 studies on a discredited line of reasoning) that they have some free time on their hands. My suggestion would be to focus on another public health crisis – arguably the biggest one we face – our dependence on cars for personal transportation.

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Haiti is the poorest and most densely populated country in the Western Hemisphere, with a (pre-earthquake) population of around 10 million persons and a population density of 335 persons per sq km (10 times the density of the U.S.).[i] With a long history of colonial and political oppression, shortened life spans, massive poverty, energy shortages, poor health care, a raging HIV/AIDs/TB epidemic, and numerous other deep-seated social, political and economic problems, Haiti also represents a vivid and tragic example of Catton’s “Overshoot” concept of when a population exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its natural environment.[ii]

The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Haiti is to the left and the Dominican Republic is the greener area to the right (source: NASA).

As Amiel Blajchman and many others have pointed out, a major cause of Haiti’s environmental degradation has been the population’s need for cheap energy.[iii] Its growing and impoverished populace is perched on a small shared island landmass with almost no domestically available fossil fuel energy resources and few hydroelectric power supplies.[iv] The cause and effect has been a massive deforestation as wood became the primary but diminishing energy source for heating, cooking and lighting for much of its population. This dramatic deforestation[v] is even visible from NASA satellite imagery.[vi] The numerous ramifications of this environmental degradation are well described with adverse impacts on agriculture, hurricanes, transportation infrastructure and several ecosystems.[vii]

Now, with the worst earthquake shaking the Caribbean in 200 years, we must sadly add another chapter to the Haitian book chronicling the linkage between its human and ecological disasters.  Without significant domestic lumber sources or the resources to import replacements, much of the Haitian housing consists (or “consisted” in the areas hardest hit) of unreinforced or poorly reinforced concrete and concrete blocks of varyng quality.

Buildings lie in ruins on a hillside in Port-au-Prince (source: Ivanoh Demers / AP)

As can be seen by the utter devastation in the numerous aerial surveys and neighbourhood panoramas posted over the Internet, those type of structures fare much worse than that of wood frame housing known to perform well in earthquakes from a human safety perspective. Thus, the Haitians share all too much in common with the experience of the Easter Islanders ecocidal slide into oblivion discussed by Jared Diamond.[viii] Had the Haitian forest environment been managed differently they might have been able to build their homes out of wood and the human suffering from this rare but predictable earthquake would arguably not have been as great.

With the help of massive embodied energy in the food and disaster response resources imported from generous international humanitarian efforts, some of the longer term devastation and loss of life from this event will be averted or postponed. But one can’t help but shudder at the possibility of an entire world so constrained by energy/economic decline induced transport constraints where no help will arrive in time, if at all, in inevitable future earthquake and other natural and man-made disasters. Collapse may be slow and sometimes imperceptible by the current generation, as both Diamond and Greer[ix] eloquently discuss, but sometimes nature’s fury, compounded by mankind’s short-sightedness and foibles, wreaks havoc and death in a heartbeat.


[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiti

[ii] http://tiny.cc/F3hmX

[iii] http://redgreenandblue.org/2009/05/10/haitis-poverty-is-directly-linked-to-deforestation-and-habitat-loss/

[iv] http://earthtrends.wri.org/pdf_library/country_profiles/ene_cou_332.pdf

[v] http://tiny.cc/7KE8P

[vi] http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a002600/a002640/

[vii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation_in_Haiti

[viii] http://www.skeptically.org/env/id12.html

[ix] http://www.energybulletin.net/node/46311

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What we're reading:

Turner, Graham. "A comparison of limits to growth with thirty years of reality." June, 2008.

Korowicz, David. "Tipping Point: Near-Term Systemic Implications of a Peak in Global Oil Production." (From the Feasta and the Risk/Resilience Network). March, 2010.

Heinberg, Richard. "‘Searching for a Miracle. Net Energy’ Limits & the Fate of Industrial Society." Post Carbon Institute & International Forum on Globalization - September, 2009.

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