CEM 406 - Climate Change And Human Health (Previously ENH 405)
This course explores the human health impacts of climate change from a number of perspectives. Students examine the ‘direct’ effects from heat waves and extreme weather events and the ‘indirect’ impacts from air pollution, infectious diseases, drought, food insecurity, and migration. Course content has a focus on two vulnerable populations, the peoples of the Canadian North and of developing countries, contrasting their challenges with those of developed countries. Other topics include research approaches, ethical issues related to climate change and health, and discussion of adaptation and public health.
Over the last 60 years, climate change has moved from the obscurity of key scientists to becoming one of the most widely publicized and discussed environmental challenges of modern times. Since the advent of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago, humans began to dramatically alter global ecosystems to support their cultural practices. While there are natural patterns to climate change, human impact on ecosystems and the heavy reliance on fossil fuels over the last 100 years have created imbalances in a number of greenhouse gases (GHG), creating change in the very environment upon which humans and all other living and non-living things rely upon for survival.
We usually think of climate change as affecting the ecosystems of the earth, and not of the impact on our health. Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO, has referred to climate change as the defining issue for public health in the 21st century. This course will examine the human health impacts of climate change from a number of perspectives. We will examine the health impacts themselves; the “direct” effects from heat waves and extreme weather events; and the “indirect” impacts from air pollution, infectious diseases, drought, food insecurity, and migration. There will be a focus on two especially vulnerable populations, the peoples of the Canadian North and of developing countries, contrasting their challenges with those of developed countries. Other topics include research approaches, and ethical issues related to climate change and health, and discussion of adaptation and public health. The course will use evidence-based materials, and many of the case studies will be Canadian focused.
The main focus of the course is to give the student an understanding of the effects of climate change on health. We will look at human health, with the understanding that humans are part of ecosystems. As Thomas Berry, the eco-theologian states “…we cannot have well humans on a sick planet, not even with all our medical science.” The course will use case studies to explore the differences between the effects in developed and developing countries, and to illustrate the complex pathways between the atmospheric changes and health effects. The course will then lead the students into a review of the concepts of vulnerability and adaptive capacity, before exploring research in climate change and health; what is being done and what needs to be done to help humans’ better deal with the problems. We will look at adaptation options: what can be done to adapt to lessen the health impacts of climate change. Finally, the course will end with a discussion of the ethical issues underlying the climate change and health crisis.
- By the end of this course, the student should be able to:
Summarize the health effects of climate change, describing the differences between the effects in developed and developing countries, and the pathways involved.
- Understand the concepts of vulnerability and adaptive capacity.
- Be able to lay out a research agenda for climate change and health.
- Describe the adaptive actions that various communities need to take in order to prevent the negative impacts on health, and the multi disciplinary nature of this response.
- Discuss the underlying ethical issues involved in the climate change and health crisis, and specific roles for individuals and communities.