threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Brexit could kill the precautionary principle – here’s why it matters so much for our environment by Rupert Read

This article appeared on 22nd November 2017 in The Conversation:

https://theconversation.com/brexit-could-kill-the-precautionary-principle-heres-why-it-matters-so-much-for-our-environment-86577

Rupert Read is Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia and is affiliated with the Green Party.  In his article, he defines the ‘precautionary principle’ as follows:

The precautionary principle is present in UK law mainly by way of its presence in EU law. It says that if the potential downside of some action or technology is huge, then the normal burden of proof should be reversed. In other words, rather than scientists having to prove that something is dangerous before it’s regulated or prohibited, those wishing to do the potentially dangerous thing should have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is safe before they are allowed to do it. Better safe than sorry.”

And he also adds a short piece of youtube video which further explains it:

It is important that this is understood fully so that, any lobbying of politicians to ensure that the precautionary principle is enshrined in British law after Brexit.  Read argues that this is of particular significance in terms of environmental issues:

“The world is witnessing an increase in the number and severity of hurricanes, droughts, floods and famines. A significant part of this is attributable to the temperature rises and disruption to the weather systems that human industrial activity has triggered.

Yet at this very moment, when the world needs new protections to mitigate dangerous climate change more than ever, Britain faces a struggle to maintain its current levels of environmental protection. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has set in place a process that, if it continues, jeopardises the future of many of the country’s most important environmental protections.”

And with the EU Withdrawal Bill currently making its way through parliament, it is important that the precautionary principle is contained in it, as it is a piece of EU legislation, not British.  At present, it is not in the EU Withdrawal Bill.  Read’s concerns about this are as follows:

Perhaps most worrying is the possibility that one of the lynchpins of European Union environmental law may be downgraded or abandoned by Britain without real public scrutiny in order to make the country more “competitive” for markets and attractive to overseas trade deals. This is especially the case with potential deals with the US, which does not accept the precautionary principle as being a basis for law.”

and:

“At its heart, precaution represents a challenge to purely “evidence-based” risk-management practices. Instead, the precautionary principle points out that when full evidence is lacking we should err on the side of caution and regulate potential threats, if those could cause serious or irreversible damage. This is more important than ever as we create new synthetic products, including even synthetic life, and as we meddle, at our existential risk, with our climate.

The precautionary principle tends to be out of favour with those who are focused on promoting growth, trade and investment at all costs. Consequently, it was of no surprise that Greenpeace’s 2015 leaks of the UK-US trade negotiations over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal revealed that the US – even under Obama’s presidency – was keen to push for its abandonment as part of that deal.”

He concludes with the words:

If the precautionary principle is to survive the current political and legal process in Britain, it needs wider understanding and wider support. The government needs to understand that ordinary citizens understand what is at stake here, and care. It’s now up to UK citizens to ensure that this matter reverberates up to local MPs, to the top tiers of all parties’ leadership teams, and beyond. This will not be an easy task, but, either for ill or for good, the consequences are potentially huge for ourselves, our environment, and our descendants.”

Important then, that we lobby MPs to ensure that they act to ensure that the precautionary principle becomes enshrined in UK law.


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The Effects of Climate Change on Human Health

In Chapter 1 of my book (Our beautiful world in harmony), I provide information on how climate change is affecting human health.  This is mainly taken from a 43-page report, ‘A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change’, written by Prof. Anthony Costello and others in 2010 . A full citation of the source can be found as reference 12 in the list of references given on this website.

Now, a new multi-author report, published in the Lancet, gives further supporting evidence.   It is entitled The Lancet Countdown of Health and Climate Change: from 25 years of inaction to a global transformation on public health.

Click to access PIIS0140-6736(17)32464-9.pdf

The Lancet Countdown tracks progress on health and climate change and provides an independent assessment of the health effects of climate change, the implementation of the Paris Agreement,1 and the health implications of these actions. It follows on from the work of the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, which concluded that anthropogenic climate change threatens to undermine the past 50 years of gains in public health, and conversely, that a comprehensive response to climate change could be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century”.

This article is available free of charge.

Some of its findings:

  1. Health Effects of Heat Waves

Statistical evidence is provided to show that 125 million more vulnerable people over the age of 65 years were exposed to heatwaves in 2016 compared with 2000.

2. Labour Capacity and Heat stress

“Extreme heat causes heat stress and heat stroke, exacerbations of pre-existing heart failure and kidney disease.”

Global labour capacity of rural labourers, such as farmers, has fallen by 5·3% from 2000 to 2016 due to rising temperatures and the inability to work when it’s too hot.

3. Infectious Diseases

Due to changing climatic conditions in countries where dengue is endemic, the capacity for one of the main mosquitoes (Aedes aegpyti) to transmit dengue fever has increased globally since 1950 by 9·5%.
4. Air Pollution and Public Health

Poor air quality impacts health by increasing rates of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases.

Air pollution from a range of sources contributed to over 1·9 million premature deaths across southeast Asia in 2015.  A graphic in the report provides the numbers of deaths in 21 South East Asian countries, caused by particular polluting sources.

ADAPTATION,PLANNING AND RESILIENCE:

A particularly severe heatwave in the summer of 2003 resulted in more than 70 000 excess deaths across Western Europe. Health systems were unprepared and quickly overwhelmed.

Proven interventions will help prevent loss of life in the future:

  •   Developing clear heatwave and climate change management strategies and establishing early warning systems.
  •  Mapping vulnerable populations and providing cool-down zones.
  •  Simple engineering solutions, such as ensuring adequate ventilation for hospitals and nursing homes.

COAL PHASE OUT:

Coal is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions of all fossil fuels, causing severe air pollution and affecting human health. While coal use increased globally since 1990, it appears to have peaked in 2013 and is now declining.  A graphic shows this levelling off but also demonstrates that China is still by far the highest user of coal to supply energy.

A growing number of countries have committed to ensuring coal is completely phased out over the next decade:

 

Divestment from fossil fuels

Research on health and climate change
“Science is critical to increasing public and political understanding of the links between climate change and health.
Since 2007, the number of scientific papers on health and climate change has more than trebled.