Global Change: a Public Health Researcher’s Ethical Responsibility
Purpose of Review
Loss of biodiversity and globalized environmental degradation result in planetary-scale changes which impact human societies.
This paper highlights the urgency for public health researchers to integrate a global change perspective into their daily work. The public health community needs to answer several questions, e.g., how to weight the health of present and future generations; how to balance between the possible immediate adverse impacts of mitigating climate change vs long-term adverse impacts of global change; how to limit the environmental impacts of public health intervention; and how to allocate resources. Public health practitioners are faced with a moral responsibility to address these challenges.
Key elements to ensure long-lasting, innovative global change and health solutions include (i) empowering the population; (ii) tailoring the framing of global change and health impacts for different stakeholders; (iii) adopting less conservative approaches on reporting future scenarios; (iv) increasing accountability about the health impacts of mitigation and adaptation strategies; and (v) recognizing the limits of science.
KeywordsGlobal change Climate change Planetary health Biodiversity Public health Ethics
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent
This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.
Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance
- 1.White M, HertzPicciotto I. Human health: analysis of climate related to health - characterization of information requirements for studies of CO2 effects: water resources, agriculture, fisheries, forests and human health. Washington DC; 1985. 173:202 p.Google Scholar
- 3.Patz JA, Balbus JM. Methods for assessing public health vulnerability to global climate change. Clim Res. 1996;6(2):113–25.Google Scholar
- 5.UNFCC. Human health and adaptation: understanding climate impacts on health and opportunities for action, vol. 1. Nairobi; 2017. p. 31.Google Scholar
- 6.• Watts N, Amann M, Arnell N, Ayeb-Karlsson S, Belesova K, Berry H, et al. The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: shaping the health of nations for centuries to come. Lancet (London, England). 2018;392(10163):2479–514 This report summarizes the current knowledge on the heath impacts of climate change, through several indicators, and keep tracks of relevant policies worldwide. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 7.Steffen W, Rockström J, Richardson K, Lenton TM, Folke C, Liverman D, et al. Trajectories of the earth system in the Anthropocene. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018;115(33):8252–9.Google Scholar
- 9.Duraiappaj A, Naeem S. Ecosystems and human well-being - biodiversity synthesis. Washington 1:100 p. Available from: http://www.millenniumassessment.org/documents/document.354.aspx.pdf. Accessed May 2019.
- 10.IPBES. Global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services (IPBES) (draft version). Bonn, Germany; 2019. XXX p. Available from: https://www.ipbes.net/global-assessment-biodiversity-ecosystem-services. Accessed May 2019.
- 11.Nations U. About the sustainable development goals [Internet]. 2019. [updated; cited]. Available from: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/. Accessed May 2019.
- 13.diversity Cob. Health and biodiversity co-benefits; Aichi target summary table [Internet]. [updated; cited]. Available from: https://www.cbd.int/health/aichi-targets/default.shtml. Accessed May 2019.
- 14.Nations U. Paris agreement; 2015. Available from: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf. Accessed May 2019.
- 16.Barnosky AD, Hadly EA, Bascompte J, Berlow EL, Brown JH, Fortelius M, et al. Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere. Nature. 2012;486(7401):52–8.Google Scholar
- 17.•• IPCC. Special report on global warming of 1.5 °C - technical summary. Geneva; 2018. 1:25 p. Available from: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/. Accessed May 2019. This report summarizes the current knowledge on the multisectoral consequences of a 1.5 °C warming, and on the possible pathways to respect this threshold. It illustrates the challenges that humanity will face in the coming years.
- 18.Naidoo R, Gerkey D, Hole D, Pfaff A, Ellis AM, Golden CD, et al. Evaluating the impacts of protected areas on human well-being across the developing world. Sci Adv. 2019;5(4):eaav3006.Google Scholar
- 19.NOAA. Trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide [Internet]. Earth system research laboratory; 2019. [updated; cited]. Available from: https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/gl_trend.html. Accessed May 2019.
- 20.FAO. The state of the world’s biodiversity for food and agriculture. FAO commission on genetic resources for food and agriculture; 2019. 1:576 p. Available from: http://www.fao.org/state-of-biodiversity-for-food-agriculture/en/. Accessed May 2019.
- 22.Somerville R. The ethics of climate change. Yale Environment 360. 2008.Google Scholar
- 26.Mora C, Spirandelli D, Franklin EC, Lynham J, Kantar MB, Miles W, et al. Broad threat to humanity from cumulative climate hazards intensified by greenhouse gas emissions. Nat Clim Chang. 2018;8(12):1062–71.Google Scholar
- 30.• Workman A, Blashki G, Bowen KJ, Karoly DJ, Wiseman J. The political economy of health co-benefits: embedding health in the climate change agenda. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(4) This paper discusses possible reasons for the lack of focus on health in climate-related policies. Google Scholar
- 31.Gautier APM. Le nexus biodiversité-santé. ENSV Vetagrosup; 2019. 1:96 p. Available from: http://www.ensv.fr/etudes-conduites-a-l-ensv/. Accessed May 2019.
- 33.Maibach EW, Nisbet M, Baldwin P, Akerlof K, Diao G. Reframing climate change as a public health issue: an exploratory study of public reactions. BMC Public Health. 2010;10.Google Scholar
- 35.Moore FC, Obradovich N, Lehner F, Baylis P. Rapidly declining remarkability of temperature anomalies may obscure public perception of climate change. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2019;201816541.Google Scholar
- 36.Wolfe SE, Tubi A. Terror management theory and mortality awareness: a missing link in climate response studies? Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang. 2019;10(2):e566.Google Scholar
- 37.Legagneux P, Casajus N, Cazelles K, Chevallier C, Chevrinais M, Guéry L, et al. Our house is burning: discrepancy in climate change vs. biodiversity coverage in the media as compared to scientific literature. Front Ecol Evol. 2018;5(JAN).Google Scholar
- 39.Yang L, Liao W, Liu C, Zhang N, Zhong S, Huang C. Associations between knowledge of the causes and perceived impacts of climate change: a cross-sectional survey of medical, public health and nursing students in universities in China. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(12).Google Scholar
- 40.Vorreux CBM, Renaudin A. Mobiliser l’enseignement supérieur pour le climat: former les étudiants pour décarboner la société. Paris, France; 2019. 1:102 p.Google Scholar
- 42.Vicedo-Cabrera AM, Guo Y, Sera F, Huber V, Schleussner CF, Mitchell D, et al. Temperature-related mortality impacts under and beyond Paris Agreement climate change scenarios. Clim Chang. 2018;150(3–4):391–402.Google Scholar
- 44.Chevalier M, Grenouillet G. Global assessment of early warning signs that temperature could undergo regime shifts. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1).Google Scholar
- 46.Ineris. Comment concilier qualité de l’air et chauffage domestique au bois? vol. 1. France: Ineris; 2018. 2 p. Available from: https://www.ineris.fr/sites/ineris.fr/files/2018-10/fiche_chauffage_QA_2018_vDEF.pdf. Accessed May 2019.