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Health: Human health and well-being in an era of energy scarcity and climate change

HEALTH: Human Health and Well-Being in an Era of Energy Scarcity and Climate Change by Brian Schwartz and C...


In the past hundred years, we have created lifestyles, communities, food systems, water systems, transportation systems, and health systems that are entirely reliant on cheap and plentiful oil and that assume a favorable and stable climate. Our health and well-being have been shaped by these lifestyles and systems, but they have not necessarily been well served: Climate change and the threat of energy scarcity now pose serious challenges to our “health system,” specifically health care services and public health services.

The consequences of climate change and energy scarcity will be wide ranging and complex, will affect all aspects of our lives, and will touch all people—some more so than others. Energy scarcity will result primarily in reduced capacity, capabilities, and services in the health care and public health systems. Climate change will cause new and increased demands on our current capabilities and services. Without preparation, early responses to these challenges will likely be motivated simply by rising and volatile energy prices—and characterized by trial and error, incorrect decisions, and highly politicized debate. Fortunately, we can plan ahead to provide communities with the essential capabilities and resources they’ll need to be resilient, safeguarding individual and family health in an increasingly uncertain future.

...When health and well-being have been defined broadly, it becomes easier to understand what the health impacts of energy scarcity and climate change are likely to be. Many things that are not considered to be “health related” per se are nevertheless important determinants of health; all of the factors below contribute to physical, mental, and social well-being—or lack thereof—and each of these is likely to be influenced by the coming energy and climate challenges:

  • Community economic vitality
  • Employment rate
  • Social stability
  • Neighborliness
  • Dependability and affordability of basic needs like food and water
  • Urban planning and design
  • Reliable transportation systems
  • Discrimination
  • Political/military conflict
  • Population dislocation/mass migration
  • Confidence/worry about the future
  • Equity/inequity
  • Freedom of/restrictions on movement
  • Disaster preparedness (how communities respond to droughts, floods, and heat waves)
  • Availability of public health and health care services


about The Post Carbon Reader

Post Carbon Reader coverHow do population, water, energy, food, and climate issues impact one another? What can we do to address one problem without making the others worse? The Post Carbon Reader features essays by some of the world’s most provocative thinkers on the key issues shaping our new century, from renewable energy and urban agriculture to social justice and community resilience. This insightful collection takes a hard-nosed look at the interconnected threats of our global sustainability quandary and presents some of the most promising responses.

Contributors to The Post Carbon Reader are some of the world's leading sustainability thinkers, including Bill McKibben, Richard Heinberg, Stephanie Mills, David Orr, Wes Jackson, Erika Allen, Gloria Flora, and dozens more.

Editorial Notes: The Post Carbon Reader has now been released. You can find out more about the book and order it here. -KS

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