Health for Future – our health needs climate protection!
Health for Future is a movement for everybody committed to an intact climate and ecosystem and our health. „Climate change is the greatest global health threat of the 21st century“ warns the physician and editor-in-chief of the renowned British medical journal The Lancet (Horton, 2009, 1869-1870).
We take this scientific evidence seriously. As nurses, therapists, doctors, students and trainees in the health sector and people with transdisciplinary backgrounds, we fight for the health of our fellow human beings and cannot silently face this global crisis. Because we have a special responsibility for the health of our fellow human beings. It is our duty to protect people’s health in every situation and from every threat.
At Health For Future health professionals work together for climate justice and an intact ecosystem. Because we know: Healthy people only exist on a healthy planet. We want everybody to understand that climate crisis a medical emergency.
What we want
To put it into medical terms: We need to deliver the right diagnosis – The climate crisis is threatening and already impacting health. It is serious! – , start with a specific therapy and act quickly before we can no longer prevent greater danger.
Yet, climate protection measures are not about loss, although it often seems that way in the public discourse. On the contrary: we have so much to gain! Healthier cities, better nutrition, active mobility, cleaner air. These positive visions of our future can help to promote the health of all people.
– Make the ‚treatment‘ of the climate crisis and its consequences for our health a central task of the health sector and integrate it into political and social decision-making processes.
– Take health impacts of climate change into account in all climate-related measures.
– Make the topic of climate change and health mandatory in the curricula of education, training and further education of all health professions.
– Meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and the 1.5°C limit.
How does climate change affect human health?
Climate crisis and environmental pollution are already directly and indirectly impacting our health. Effects of the climate crisis are rising temperatures, sea level rise and increased occurrence of extreme weather events. These changes create restrictions and dangers for our health. (Read more here.)
A short overview (Watts, 2015):
- Extreme weather events lead to injuries and deaths, have negative effects on mental health, destroy livelihoods and force people to leave their homes.
- Heat periods lead to heat stress, illness and death.
- Air pollution worsens asthma and other respiratory diseases, increases the incidence of respiratory allergies and causes development as well as worsening of cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer.
- Insecure water quality and quantity lead to increased incidence of waterborne pathogens such as campylobacter, cholera and cryptosporidiosis.
- Insecure Food supply and food security makes malnutrition and the incidence of foodborne as well as and mycotoxin diseases increase.
- Increased occurrence of vector-based disease outbreaks such as chikungunya, dengue, malaria or encephalitides (e.g. TBE).
- Wildfires lead to injury and death, affect mental health and destroy livelihoods.
But here is the good news: Many climate protection measures protect our health – in the future but also already today. Climate protection is health protection put into action. (Haines, 2017.) When protecting our climate we automatically take advantage for our health. We call this phenomenon ‚health co-benefits‘. Our health benefits from environmentally conscious and climate-protecting behaviour. Examples include cycling which leads to increased physical activity and plant-based nutrition which can serve as long-term vascular prevention.
Example ‚Bicycle instead of car‘: In their everyday mobility, especially city dwellers have the opportunity to protect climate and their health at the same time. According to the Federal Environment Agency (Umwelt-Bundesamt), regular cycling increases life expectancy by 3-14 months. In contrast, the associated risks of increased exposure to particulate matter and accidents are negligible. In addition, according to the University of Utrecht, cycling has a positive influence on our mental health and cyclists have the most positive image of their commute (Wild, Woodward, 2019).
Example ‚plant-based diet‘: Livestock is responsible for 83% of land use and 60% of greenhouse gas emissions within agriculture. At the same time a meat-reduced diet has positive health effects through lowering BMI, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and HbA1c (glycated haemoglobin). These factors lead to a risk reduction of 30% for heart attack on a vegetarian diet. However, not only meat, but animal products in general (especially butter and cheese) are linked to immense emissions. Switching to a plant-based diet protects not only our environment, but also ourselves (Crowe, Appleby, Travis, Key, 2013).
We can be part of the change – our activism
We are experimenting with strategic actions as ‚change agents‘ aiming towards transformative action in several fields. Similar to Fridays for Future we are active on the streets, but we keep looking for different ways to act depending on windows of opportunity and our respective environments.
Demonstrations and vigils: The For Future movement and especially the climate strikes of Fridays for Future have been the driving force of an increasing social pressure for more climate justice in recent years. We are also present at climate strikes and organise demonstrations and vigils ourselves.
Politics: We engage in political agenda-setting, discuss with members of parliament and contribute to the shaping of the general socio-political opinion. In 2021, Health for Future Germany will participate in the electoral process at both state and federal level and try to bring climate and health protection into the general public’s focus. Within our internal structures, we offer skills-labs aiming to enhance our knowledge and our skills to get into action. As an example, thefirst Health for Future Skills Lab was on political communication and agenda setting. In three workshops over 100 participants were trained by experts on effective methods of political communication and prepared themselves to approach politicians. After the Skills Lab participants contacted their local MPs with their local Health for Future groups.
Education: Trainees and students pursue the objective to integrate the topics of „Planetary Health“ and the connections between climate change and health as a fundamental part of the education at their universities and educational institutions. In summer 2020, the German Climate Change and Health Alliance (KLUG e.V.) set up the first Planetary Health Academy lecture series. The Planetary Health Academy is a free online lecture series focussing on transformative action in addition to scientific foundations and transdisciplinary perspectives on Planetary Health. In average, about 1000 people attended each lecture. Health for Future activists contributed some of the content to the lectures, inspiring other trainees and health professionals to start new Health for Future local groups. The lecture series is recognised as an elective at various universities, for example in Aachen and Freiburg. After the great success and large interest in our topics we established a second round held in English and open to an international audience, and are currently planning the third edition of the Planetary Health Academy starting in may 2020. In addition, Health for Future activists are involved in running their own teaching programmes in many other cities.
Hospitals and doctor’s surgeries: Doctors and nurses work towards CO2 neutrality in hospitals and surgeries. They integrate findings on the health effects of climate crisis into patient care. In November 2020, Havelhöhe Community Hospital became the first hospital in Germany to announce its goal of climate neutrality by 2030. This step was driven by Health for Future Havelhöhe. General practioners from the Health for Future groups offer their patients a climate consultation in which they give advice for a healthier and more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
The decentralised organisation and independence of the individual Health for Future local groups make it possible to plan and implement many different projects and actions. We understand ourselves as a ‚grassroots organisation‘.
We invite you to start an international Health for Future group in your region. We believe in the power of movements and love to get to know about your perspectives. If you want to know more about us, our experiences or if you are interested in cooperation, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our dream is a vital network, uniting behind common goals. Together, we can tackle climate change and live in harmony with a healthier planet.
Resources on climate crisis and health
You can watch videos from our Plantery Health Academy, covering a broad range of transdiscipplinary topics and and find further reading materials here.
How Health for Future was founded
Man-made climate change poses the greatest challenge to human health and our health system (Wood, 2020). Put positively: By tackling climate crisis we have great opportunities to increase the health of society as a whole and to promote a good and healthy life (Watts, 2020). By protecting our climate, we do not only protect our health, but also promote it. So far, these facts have been considered far too little in political decision-making and in the health sector itself.
Health for Furture was founded in August 2019 as a movement and action forum. Health for Future was initiated by the German Climate Change and Health Alliance (KLUG e.V.).
The Health for Future movement unites all people in the health system. Our members include nurses, therapists, doctors, public health experts, pharmacists, students and trainees. We strive to be a transdisciplinary movement.
- Crowe, F, Appleby, P, Travis, R, Key, T: Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians: results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study. 2013. Online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23364007/ (10.02.2021).
- Haines, A: Health co-benefits of climate action. The Lancet Planetary Health, 1 (1): 4 – 5, 2017.
- Horton, R: The climate dividend. The Lancet, 374 (9705): 1869 – 1870, 2009.
- KLUG – Deutsche Allianz Klimawandel und Gesundheit e.V.: Wie man durch bewusste Ernährung das Klima schützen kann – und dabei auch noch gesund bleibt. Online: https://www.klimawandel-gesundheit.de/materialien/factsheets/factsheet-ernahrung/#sdfootnote8sym (09.02.2021).
- UK Government, WHO, Wellcome Trust, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Global Climate and Health Alliance: COP26 Key Messages on Climate Change and Health. 2020. Online: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/cop26-key-messages-on-climate-change-and-health (09.02.2021).
- Umweltbundesamt: Radverkehr . 2019. Online: https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/themen/verkehr-laerm/nachhaltige-mobilitaet/radverkehr#gtgt-gesund (10.02.2021).
- Watts, N: Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health, The Lancet, 386 (10006): 1861 – 1914, 2015.
- Watts, N: The 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: responding to converging crises. The Lancet, 397 (10269): 129 – 170, 2020.
- Wild, K, Woodward, A: Why are cyclists the happiest commuters? Health, pleasure and the e-bike. 2019. Online: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2214140518305255?via%3Dihub (10.02.2021).
- Wood, J: These are the 10 biggest global health threats of the decade. 2020. Online: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/02/who-healthcare-challenges-2020s-climate-conflict-epidemics/ (08.02.2021).