Climate Change and Your Health

By Traver Kennedy, Chairman and CEO on May 03, 2016
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How Hydrogen energy can help tackle this urgent and important connection

In his landmark book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, celebrated business writer Stephen Covey created a useful framework for focusing limited resources and energy on the right issues. Specifically, he created a four-box matrix to classify problems as:

1. Urgent and Important

2. Urgent and Not Important

3. Not Urgent and Important

4. Not Urgent and Not Important

This framework was devised through simple insight. People tend to confuse the urgent issues with the important issues when they need to focus. As a result, people, companies, and even governments find themselves focusing their efforts to tackle the everyday urgent issues at the expense of what matters in the long run: the important issues. For more than two decades now, this framework has been used by organizations all over the world to re-design where they focus their time and resources.


Until now, climate change seemed to have suffered a similar fate. Most people agreed it was important, but since its effects were not felt, or even effectively measured, it was easy to leave climate change for later—after the more “urgent” things were solved. Not anymore. Earlier this month the White House released its Scientific Assessment on Impact of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States. The effects that climate change is having on the health of people here and around the world is now front and center on the White House’s short list of urgent and important issues that require special focus at all levels—from governments and multinational corporations to the individual household.

Climate Change is now a public health concern

In its press release, the Obama administration states, “Climate change is a significant threat to the health of the American people, not just in the future but right now.” The press release goes on to stress, “As the climate continues to change, the risks to human health will grow, exacerbating existing health threats, creating new public health challenges, and impacting more people in more places.”

This report on the effects of health related to climate change came out just a couple of weeks before the U.S., along with 170 other countries, signed the Paris Agreement on climate change on April 22. As the largest economy in the world and the second largest greenhouse gas emitter accounting for 12% of total emissions worldwide, the Obama administration is keenly aware that specific actions need to go along with its signature. The world is watching how American government and industry tackle climate change. For instance, India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar told BBC News, “What happens in the U.S. will have a definite bearing on how the world takes all these ideas and commitments and pledges into effect. So people are eagerly awaiting what happens in the U.S.” This is significant, coming from an economy that ranks fourth in greenhouse gas emissions.

In their scientific assessment, the authors of the report explain the “exposure pathways” by which climate change directly and indirectly affects human health. Specifically, they refer to Climate Drivers, which include rising sea levels, extreme heat, extreme precipitation and increased temperatures. These drivers create Exposure Pathways for people in the form of poor air quality; population displacements; poor food and water quality; and changes in infectious agents. The Exposure Pathways lead to the Health Outcomes that the White House is concerned about—heat-related and cardiopulmonary illness; food, water and vector-borne disease; and mental health consequences and stress.

Based on this report, the White House’s press release on the issue of the connection between public health and the environment points out the following seven specific health risks directly related to climate change:

1. Extreme heat is expected to cause an increase in the number of premature deaths.

2. Air quality is projected to worsen as air pollution and airborne allergens increase with rising temperatures, wildfires, and reduced rainfall, contributing to cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses.

3. Flooding and storm surge events are expected to disrupt essential infrastructure including power, water, transportation and communication systems, thereby exacerbating underlying medical conditions.

4. Warmer winter and spring temperatures are projected to lead to the earlier annual onset of Lyme disease cases in the eastern United States.

5. Water-borne illnesses, such as intestinal and bloodstream infections, are expected to rise due to the runoff from more frequent and intense extreme precipitation events and increased water temperatures.

6. Food-related illnesses, such as salmonella and gastrointestinal infections, are expected to surge as rising temperatures and changes in weather extremes increase human exposure to certain food pathogens and toxins.

7. Mental health and stress-related issues are expected, with vulnerable populations, including the elderly and children, projected to have the largest health impact.

Growing without damaging your health

No matter how committed a government is, economic and industrial activity is driven by the private sector. Growth happens when industry (and its workers) are economically healthy; governments know that and are careful not to impose burdens that can stifle economic progress. The overwhelming majority of the world seems to have finally arrived at the conclusion that it is now time to include a healthy relationship with the planet in the definition of a healthy private sector. The White House scientific assessment underlines the urgency of this in light of the environment’s direct connection to having a healthy workforce.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Industry’s share of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014* was 29%, making it the largest contributor of greenhouse gases of any sector.” The good news: greenhouse gas emissions from industry have declined by almost 10% since 1990. The bad news: emissions from most other sectors have increased. Transportation and electricity, alongside industry, are the top three emitters of greenhouse gases.

Even if the administration’s goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020” is achieved, the levels of carbon particles released into the atmosphere will continue to impact the environment in quite measurable ways. Which leads us to the not-so-shocking conclusion that the energy we choose to power our economic progress today will have a direct impact on our health and the health of future generations, whether one lives in a metropolis, a shoreline, or the middle of the countryside.

Choosing our energy wisely is now urgent and important

The road to a sustainable energy future must pass through the “clean” and “affordable” crossroads. Environmentally healthy energy we all can afford is the only way to assure a sustainable future. If energy is clean but unaffordable it will eventually fail, no matter how many artificial subsidies go into it. If energy is affordable but dirty, it is more of the same—and we know where that is leading us.

Hydrogen is one of the exciting fields where the kind of innovation we need to stay healthy is happening. Decades of research to effectively release the energy potential of nature’s most abundant element are starting to pay off. From innovative fuel cells to ingenious extraction methods, a silent revolution is happening. At Joi Scientific, we are proud to be working in an area that can unleash enormous positive impact on the environment along with the economic impact that has historically accompanied transformative changes—from the industrial revolution to the information revolution.

Our focus at Joi Scientific is on Hydrogen 2.0, which is energy innovation related to the efficiency of hydrogen’s complete economic cycle—from releasing hydrogen energy from water to using existing storage and transportation infrastructure to make hydrogen fuel available 24/7, everywhere.

Our work on clean, abundant and affordable Hydrogen 2.0 has the potential to make a positive and a lasting impact on the health of people and industry, in developed and developing nations alike, so that humanity can finally conquer the urgent and important climate change issue.

*EPA estimates of industry’s share of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 includes both direct and indirect emissions associated with electricity use.

Photography courtesy of Silicon Valley entrepreneur and photographer Christopher Michel.


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