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Coming Soon to a Doctor’s Office Near You – The Global Warming Debate

When Chad Kent, the resident Constitutionalist here, came to me about a story on Global Warming folks weaseling their way into the field of medicine, I was moderately intrigued. He told me about a paper that had been published by American Family Physician, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians, that was giving physicians suggestions on how to reduce the effects of Global Warming by encouraging their patients to live healthier. Now, leftists playing politics with health care with Obamacare is one thing, but starting to lobby doctors with their environmental agenda directly is something else entirely.
Physician
While I managed to end up with full-text of this article, only the abstract of “Global Warming – Benefits for Patients and the Planet” is available publicly. The author of this paper, Cindy L. Parker, MD, is a member of the faculty at Johns Hopkins University. In short, her thesis is that since it’s a foregone conclusion that human beings are to blame for Global Warming (she regularly substitutes this term for the “less pejorative” Climate Change), it makes sense for physicians to encourage their patients to eat less red meat and use bicycles or other human-powered means of transportation more often. This would theoretically make an appreciable change in the amount of carbon emissions, and thus help to slow the damage we are doing to the environment.

As relative proof for her contention on alternative forms of transportation, Parker cites data that shows there had been a noticeable decline in ozone concentration in Atlanta, GA during the 1996 Olympic games, and in Beijing, China, during the Olympics in 2008. The Olympic Committee restricts the use of motor vehicles for the duration of the games, so there was less car exhaust in those areas at those times. As for the dietary changes, there is a more convoluted equation that includes the amount of oil-based products used in agriculture, and the negative effects they have on the environment.

Now, it is difficult to argue against the idea that eating less red meat and being more active are intelligent choices for health-conscious Americans. However, taking the additional step of suggesting to doctors that encouraging these behaviors may have the additional side-effect of combating Global Warming is troublesome at best. Readers of AFP Journal did reply to this article, and pointed out some perceived flaws in the theory, primarily on the science Parker chose to back her thesis. One part of the editorial response to the readers’ feedback is rather telling.

3. Scientific process: When Dr. Parker first proposed this article, we challenged the author to justify how this information could be of use to the office-based physician, in terms of improving practice and patient outcomes. The author replied with a detailed explanation about how physicians can counsel their patients in ways that would help their health, as well as be good for the environment – a double benefit. These included eating less red meat and using bicycles for exercise and transportation. Although we were aware that the issue of global warming is controversial, we did not think that these particular recommendations, which are consistent with current national guidelines on healthy diet and physical activity, would be considered controversial.

As is standard for every clinical review article, the manuscript was independently assessed by two medical editors and three external reviewers. The reviews were supportive of the article’s basic concept, and provided helpful recommendations to strengthen and increase its relevance to the practicing family physician.

To provide additional perspective on this topic, we solicited an accompanying editorial. It described the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, and also said: “the American Medical Association (AMA), in concert with the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association, has strongly supported educating health professionals about the impacts of climate change. The AMA is a major participant in the Climate and Health Literacy Consortium, which has developed free standard PowerPoint presentations for hospital administrators and clinical staff.”

Finally, Dr. Parker is codirector of the Program on Global Sustainability and Health and director of the Global Environmental Change and Sustainability major and minor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and is an expert in the field. We mention this to indicate that this article was not published without due deliberation and discourse.

In writing, and life, context is everything. Parker is a researcher with an agenda, and a rather severe bias. Her entire career is based on proving links between the environment and people’s health. This article is just a small part of her work. Before trying to tell our doctors to encourage us to live healthier to save the planet, she wrote a book telling us directly. And it’s not hard to figure out why she might target the petroleum industry in particular, albeit indirectly, through the agriculture industry. Parker is also a proponent of the Peak Oil theory – that we are approaching a point of critical mass where petroleum use versus supply is concerned. Due to being over-reliant on oil, society will reach a point where shortages in that resource will start a domino effect, particularly in agriculture, that will lead to famines and radical inflation. But, that is yet another short-sighted theory from the world of environmentalists, primarily because it gives little or no consideration to one thing that the petroleum industry takes into account when making projections about the worldwide oil supply. It does not take into account the fact that industry in general is continually searching for and implementing technologies that increase fuel efficiency. The irony of this shouldn’t be lost on most conservatives, since a great deal of that research was essentially forced on the automobile industry in particular by the environmentalists themselves, in the form of governmental regulations.

So what do we take away from all of this, as conservatives? This should be considered a warning shot. While it’s unlikely that Parker’s research and writings will manage to make many waves with anyone that doesn’t already agree with her anyway, it would be foolish to not consider this a harbinger of things to come. Combine this with the current advertising campaigns featuring children with breathing problems promoting EPA initiatives on the Hill, and it is obvious that environmentalists are moving closer to the reality of the situation. No matter how much they want to say that they want to save the planet, that simply isn’t the case. We can’t save something that doesn’t need saving. The planet will still be here long after we’re gone, unless we disappear because the planet itself is destroyed in some cosmic event.

What environmentalists really are trying to save is our ability to live comfortably on this planet. Whether or not Global Warming is actually occurring, and whether or not it is being caused by our current use of fossil fuels are matters for scientists interested in dealing with pure theory. Their findings are irrelevant, because we do not have the means at our disposal to make radical changes anyway. Green technology research has not reached the point where it can give us viable replacements for our current fuel needs. The best that we can do until viable replacements become mass-marketable is to continue focusing on increasing fuel efficiency, and decreasing carbon emissions through improved filtration technology. Cars built today do not cause anywhere near the amount of pollution as those built in the 1970′s and earlier. Arguably, the only thing standing in the way of scientists focusing on applying the technology that accomplished that in the automobile industry to other high-carbon emission industries is the fascination with finding the next best fuel.

So, if your doctor starts trying to sell you on the idea of eating less red meat, and riding bicycles to work as your own little way to save the planet, please do set that physician straight. If you choose to do it, make sure the doctor knows it’s because you want to improve your own health, and that’s all. Sorry, but no one is going to save the world by choosing salad over steak, or pedaling over driving.

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