Dealing with climate change as a health issue

‘When climate change is framed as a health issue,’ say Lancet editors Richard Horton and Helena Hui Wang, ‘it becomes clear that we are facing a predicament that strikes at the heart of humanity.’


PETALUMA, Calif., July 10, 2015 – According to a report published in The Lancet, climate change is having as much of an impact on our health as it is on the environment.

The news may not be all bad, say Lancet editors Richard Horton and Helena Hui Wang, since this realization could reduce a complex and all-too-easily dismissed problem to something everyone can relate to and, presumably, will want to do something about.

“When climate change is framed as a health issue, rather than purely as an environmental, economic, or technological challenge, it becomes clear that we are facing a predicament that strikes at the heart of humanity,” say Horton and Wang. “Health puts a human face on what can sometimes seem to be a distant threat.”

How best to address this threat — not to mention its cause, severity and very existence — remains open for debate.

Flawed climate change science and the IPCC

Even Pope Francis has inserted himself into the discussion with his latest encyclical, suggesting with the report’s authors that it’s high time for local and national governments, as well as individuals, to make better use of public transportation, reduce energy consumption, and reduce their environmental impact. But if what we’re dealing with is, in effect, a health issue, are there perhaps other viable approaches we should consider?

The pope intimates as much where he writes, “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us.”

While prayer may not be everyone’s first choice when it comes to dealing with a potentially dangerous environment, there are plenty who have found it to be quite effective when addressing health issues, regardless of their cause.

Long before climate change as we now know it came on the scene, religious reformer and Christian healer Mary Baker Eddy found herself focusing more on our mental rather than on our physical environment as it relates to our health. At a time when doctors would often recommend a change of climate as a means of healing, she discovered that a change of thought, particularly in regard to our views of God and His care for His creation, was vastly more effective in her treatment of those who came to her for healing.

Redefining the mind-body connection

“A woman, whom I cured of consumption (tuberculosis), always breathed with great difficulty when the wind was from the east,” she recounts in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. “I sat silently by her side a few moments. Her breath came gently. The inspirations were deep and natural. I then requested her to look at the weather-vane. She looked and saw that it pointed due east. The wind had not changed, but her thought of it had and so her difficulty in breathing had gone.”

Given Eddy’s approach to healing, she may have been sitting “silently,” but there was probably much more going on within her mental sphere, which included the conviction that her patient’s health wasn’t at the mercy of constantly changing, matter-based conditions, but rather the uninterrupted expression of a wholly benign Spirit or God.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be doing all that we can to reduce negative impact on the environment, only that we might want to also take into consideration what we can be doing to improve the impact our environment — that is, our mental environment — has on our health.

It’s possible, too, that by paying more attention to our beliefs about the ultimate cause or intelligence of the universe — about ourselves and others and our relationship to God — that we could start seeing a change in our physical environment.

Americans are losing their faith in religion

A classic example is in the Bible, where Jesus finds himself in the midst of what is probably best described as a hurricane.

“Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat,” reads an account in the book of Matthew.

“The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ Jesus responded, ‘Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.”

The idea that God would cause or even allow a potentially life-threatening storm to destroy His own creation likely seemed contradictory to Jesus. What probably made a lot more sense was the apparent connection between what was going on in his disciples’ thought and their surrounding environment, a fear-filled frame of mind that once steadied, had the effect of quieting things down around them.

Obviously it’s going to take a lot more than simply framing climate change as a “health issue” for the public to become engaged and for us to see any positive adjustments. It could help us, however, to better understand that we needn’t wait for such adjustments to ensure our health, but can learn more about the higher-than-physical laws that maintain both our own and the planet’s health.

Eric Nelson writes each week on the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Read similar columns on his website and follow him on Twitter @norcalcs.

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  • Martha Bartha

    If pollution doesn’t affect the environment, how can there be climate change?