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Media Type: Article - Recent
Date of Publication: January 2015
Year of Publication: 2015
Author(s): Bruce Barrett, Joel W. Charles, Jonathan L. Temte
Journal: Preventive Medicine
Barrett, Charles, and Temte survey the human health consequences of the damage we are causing to the planet, and consider if we may be entering a fourth “age” in the epidemiological transition defined by civilization collapse and population decline.
ABSTRACT: The health of populations depends on the availability of clean air, water, food, and sanitation, exposure to pathogens, toxins and environmental hazards, and numerous genetic, behavioral and social factors. For many thousands of years, human life expectancy was low, and population growth was slow. The development of technology-based civilizations facilitated what Abdel Omran called “epidemiological transition,” with increasing life expectancy and rapid population growth. To a large extent, the spectacular growth of human populations during the past two centuries was made possible by the energy extracted from fossil fuels. We have now learned, however, that greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion are warming the planet’s surface, causing changes in oceanic and atmospheric systems, and disrupting weather and hydrological patterns. Climate change poses unprecedented threats to human health by impacts on food and water security, heat waves and droughts, violent storms, infectious disease, and rising sea levels. Whether or not humanity can reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to slow climate change to a rate that will allow societies to successfully adapt is not yet known. This essay reviews the current state of relevant knowledge, and points in a few directions that those interested in human health may wish to consider.
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