You Can't Separate Health and Wellness From Climate Change

©. GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

It is not an either/or; studies show that they are intimately connected.

To this TreeHugger, the main purpose of green building (and of this site) is to promote a low-carbon lifestyle and address the climate crisis. But it is apparent that people seem to be less concerned about climate change, carbon emissions and resilience than they are about health and wellness, as evidenced by the booming of the Well Standard and the KB Home pivot to wellness.

Even those who accept the science of climate change are not really willing to give up much to do anything about it. Dan Gardner, of Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, believes it is because of what he called "psychological distance."

Psychological distance matters for judgments about risk because concrete thoughts are tangible. They engage our senses. We can feel them, and they can move us. But abstract thoughts have none of those qualities....Climate change is distant in every dimension. The worst of it lies decades in the future, to be suffered in far-off lands by foreigners very different from us, and the worst scenarios are highly uncertain. It would be hard to design a threat more likely to induce highly abstract thoughts. And shrugs.

Which is why there is all this talk in Well and KB Home of Tomorrow about circadian lighting and EMF from electric wiring, which are almost pathetic in light of the biggest health and wellness crisis we face.

In fact, the products of combustion released by burning fossil fuels create a clear and present danger to our health and wellbeing right now. This is not distant. We are living and breathing it.

Every Breath

© Royal College of Physicians,

A study released by The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) took a ‘cradle to grave’ approach to consideration of the effects of air pollution on health and found them to be overwhelming and intimately connected to climate change.

Air pollution plays a key role in the process of climate change, which places our food, air and water supplies at risk, and poses a major threat to our health. Several pollutants that cause this environmental damage are also toxic to our bodies. Therefore, many of the changes that would decrease air pollution to protect our health – especially using energy more efficiently and burning less solid fuel and oil – would also help to slow down the overheating of our planet.

There is nothing psychologically distant about it; in the UK alone, 40,000 deaths each year are attributable to outdoor air pollution, with uncounted more linked to indoor pollution. To reduce this they call for alternatives to cars fuelled by gas or diesel, prioritizing expanded cycle networks, public transport and "active travel [which] also increases physical activity, which will have major health benefits for everyone."

Within our homes and offices they call for greater energy efficiency, better ventilation and tighter building envelopes. "One important source of indoor air pollution is outdoor air, gaining ingress through windows, doors and general building ‘leakiness’.

Reading the report, it becomes pretty obvious that reducing the use of fossil fuels is key to reducing both deadly air pollution and climate change. "While greenhouse gases are most active in the upper atmosphere and toxic pollutants are most active at ground level, they invariably share a source in the combustion of fossil fuels." Measures that affect one also affect the other. Policies that discourage fossil fuel use encourage health and well-being.

For example, measures that discourage the use of private cars in urban areas deliver co-benefits to health and wellbeing through tackling climate change and air pollution. However, where such measures drive an increase in active travel (walking and cycling), a much wider set of benefits to physical and mental health and wellbeing can result from increased physical activity levels.

Ultimately, aiming for radical building and transportation efficiency, and reducing or eliminating the use of fossil fuels, are the most important things we can do for health and wellness. This is why I promote Passivhaus and getting people out of cars. And as Steve Mouzon just tweeted, "Living in a compact, mixed-use, walkable place is one of the best things you can do for physical, mental, and even (some would say) spiritual wellness, while at the same time one of the most efficient things as well."

This isn't something in the psychological distance. Fossil fuels are killing us right here and now.