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Eric Chivian MD, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard University.

Repost of an article by Steven Johnson, an independent writer, speaker and creative consultant specialising in sustainability, CSR and behaviour change. He blogs and tweets as @Considered. Original article at The Guardian.

Experts in public health have struggled with enabling behaviour change for years. The sustainability sector should learn what it can from their experiences:

Consumer behaviour change is the challenge of our time. As governments and brands are beginning to realise, upstream improvements are relatively easy to make compared with the herculean task of shifting consumer behaviours downstream.

While the sustainability community is just beginning to get to grips with the gravity of this challenge, our colleagues in public health have been wrestling with it for decades. Great progress has been made, but hard lessons have been learned – costly, time-consuming lessons that we can all learn from.

Continued at original site: The Guardian

A conversation with the famous M. King Hubbert by the American Hospital Association, 1976.

There are several important take home messages from this interview.

  • The basic impacts of peak oil on our health care systems were understood 1/3 of a century ago.
  • Everyone alive today has grown up in a period of growth. That era is coming to a close, but are we ready to face that reality?
  • All baby boomers lived through the burning of more than half of the world’s cheap oil.
  • It is no surprise that the environmental effects of burning all those hydrocarbons, in a closed system, in such a short period of time, are also showing up now. As the late Barry Commoner has said:
  • Everything Is Connected to Everything Else.
  • Everything Must Go Somewhere.
  • Nature Knows Best.
  • There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.

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.

By George Monibot – End of an Era

It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the US, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue “sustained growth”, the primary cause of the biosphere’s losses.

Continued at original website

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

Re-orienting Public Health:
Rhetoric, challenges and possibilities for sustainability
Phil Hanlon and Sandra Carlisle
Critical Public Health, Volume 20, Issue 3, 2010, Pages 299 – 309

Abstract: “We make a case in this article for re-orienting public health, based on evidence that societies across the globe are now facing inevitable change for which public health remains insufficiently prepared. We focus on the relationship between different sustainability ideals, displayed through rhetoric and discourse and the reality of a number of challenges in the ‘modern’ world. We briefly describe discernible elements of public and policy rhetoric around sustainability, as an important background for public health efforts, and present two significant public health discourses. We then outline some of the challenges to sustainability; some relate to the powerful social systems and cultural values associated with modernity, while others refer to broader environmental issues. These are not unconnected. We conclude by outlining the possibilities for ustainability, which include a transition to a more sustainable form of society that could lessen global inequalities, combat emerging problems, such as obesity, depression and addictive behaviours, and improve individual and social levels of well-being. We believe that this may well require a change of consciousness for a change of age, so the scope and scale of the required response should not be underestimated.”

(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 Michael Tobis’ excellent Climate Change blog, “Only in it for the Gold.” It deals with the rampant and almost epic problem of the failure of science communication to prevent corruption of climate science. Eventually (many would argue it already has), the same techniques may very well be directed towards energy decline and its likely impact on modern health care and public health. It is one of the tenants of this site that many health professionals have not only the skills but the duty to lead efforts to redress this problem.

Michael Tobis

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Dan Bednarz


Modern healthcare systems are intensive users of fossil fuel produced energy and therefore significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. This suggests a moral imperative to lower energy consumption for reasons of ecological sustainability. A second, and less articulated, practical reason to lowering energy consumption is that it is no longer inexpensive; rising costs, which derive from a geological peaking of worldwide oil extraction rates, are creating a strong economic incentive to reduce energy consumption. The implications of these twin driving forces -which have a common root in our reliance upon fossil fuels- for healthcare are complex and if misconstrued can lead to public policies placing them in opposition. In other words, assigning differing weights to these driving forces leads to divergent decision trees which, on the one hand, could exacerbate climate change, as in a scenario where coal is turned to as a substitute for declining supplies of oil and natural gas. On the other hand, an alternative decision tree weighting each driving force equally has healthcare setting a leadership example for energy conservation and ecological sustainability. This latter decision path, however, will –in all likelihood- introduce revisions of extant health theories and models of practice. How sweeping these changes will be is an unknown and therefore should be conceptualized with a full spectrum of scenarios that take account of the interplay between varying degrees of climate change mitigation done under varying conditions of energy constraint.

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[Edited by: Paul R. Epstein and Jesse Selber, Published by: The Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School]

When significant deposits of oil were discovered in the 19th Century, this fossil fuel appeared to offer a limitless source of energy to drive development. While oil and the energy it supplies provide multiple benefits to human society, every stage in the life cycle from exploration to use can have harmful effects on our health and the environment. This report examines the health and environmental impacts of oil exploration, drilling, extraction, transport, refining and combustion. Drilling and extraction carry acute and chronic hazards, including fires and blowouts, occupational injury and disease, and can lead to longterm harm to plant and animal communities. Oil spills and leaks along coastlines pose risks for marine life and fisheries, and can threaten the livelihoods of human communities. Refining exposes workers and wildlife to petroleum, its by-products and the chemicals used in the refining process. At the pump, gasoline can be both toxic and carcinogenic.

Refining and combustion result in air pollution and acid rain. Pollutant chemicals can be toxic to humans, other animals and plants, while acid rain has impacts on terrestrial, aquatic and marine coastal systems. Finally, the aggregate of gas and particulate emissions from burning oil have begun to alter the world’s climate system; with implications for human health,  agricultural productivity, vulnerable ecosystems and societal infrastructure.

This report, while not exhaustive, is intended to provide a comprehensive framework for evaluating the true costs of our use of oil. The authors hope it will serve as a resource for further study.

Executive Summary (PDF)

Full Report (PDF)

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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.