By MSH Board Member, Ann Shedd.
Originally Published in The Monadnock Shopper News, Green Monadnock column, October 2021.
In September 2021, the New England Journal of Medicine and 200 other medical and health journals world-wide published a shared editorial recognizing our climate emergency and the need for urgent and immediate action, at every level and around the globe. The editorial is worthy reading for all of us, whether health professionals or not.
The editors issue a “call for urgent action to keep average global temperature increases below 1.5° C, halt the destruction of nature, and protect health…Only fundamental and equitable changes to societies will reverse our current trajectory.”
The editorial highlights human health threats related to climate change and the degradation of our natural environment. Of note for NH’s senior-skewed population, the editorial cites sources showing that “in the past 20 years, heat-related mortality among people over 65 years of age has increased by more than 50%”. It also notes other health issues related to extreme weather events, and the impacts of drought and soil degradation on global nutrition. These and other threats have greater impact on communities, in the US and around the globe, which contribute less to the emissions causing the crisis.
The editorial cautions that “Global targets are not enough…Targets are easy to set and hard to achieve. They are yet to be matched with credible short- and longer-term plans to accelerate cleaner technologies and transform societies….Huge investment will be needed….but such investments will produce huge positive health and economic outcomes. These include high-quality jobs, reduced air pollution, increased physical activity, and improved housing and diet.”
These are emphatic imperatives from respected, peer-reviewed, science-based publications. Among the sources the editorial panels reviewed was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report issued this August. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis assesses multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observational data, and global and regional climate simulations incorporating varying degrees of emissions reduction. The Report’s findings are clear: human activity has contributed to existing global warming, past and current emissions assure that global surface temperatures (land and water) will continue to rise, and warming contributes to climate disruptions producing more extremes of temperature and precipitation.
The hope that the IPCC report holds out is that the warming effect can be reduced by at least some fraction by limiting CO2 emissions, reaching at least “net zero” CO2 emissions, and reduction of other greenhouse gas emissions such as methane. As the New England Journal editorial points out, the response needs to be rapid, widespread, and systemic.
Some significant responses and actions on the climate crisis are underway in our Monadnock Region. Of note, some of these measures also offer economic benefits and some may help our residents and businesses better withstand disruptions related to extreme weather events.
Peterborough and Keene have both adopted 100% renewable energy goals, and are working to develop and implement specific action plans. Harrisville and Keene have adopted Community Power Plans, and committees are exploring Community Power potential in Marlborough, Peterborough, Swanzey, Walpole, and Dublin. More solar installations are appearing on homes, businesses, and farms in the region, and ConVal High School will soon have a solar array. Energy efficiency and weatherization efforts are important though less visible: as examples, Keene Housing and SAU 29 have completed cost- and carbon-saving work in their facilities. Limiting transportation emissions, Keene’s City Express service has been expanded, more public Electric Vehicle charging facilities are being installed in the region, and one area school district has electric school buses in its capital budget – a change with significant health benefits.
The New England Journal of Medicine editorial closes by noting that “The greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5° C and to restore nature… We, as editors of health journals, call for governments and other leaders to act.” Whether you are a health-care professional, a member of a professional organization or a faith community, or a private citizen, you can add your voice to this call for action.
Ann Shedd is a retired physician who moved to Keene in 2007; her family roots in Keene go back three generations, and she has a life-time love for the region. She served on the Keene Conservation Commission for 5 years and on the Keene Energy and Climate Committee for 6 years. During her tenure as Chair of that committee the City adopted 100% renewable energy goals, and 2 years later adopted a Sustainable Energy Plan to move the community toward those goals.