Citizen Action Monitor

UK prof of Intensive Care Medicine diagnoses the health of planet Earth – his prognosis is foreboding

Think of a patient in Intensive Care. It’s climate change that will “off us” from planet Earth – on top of what we’re already doing to it – says Dr. Hugh Montgomery.

No 2400 Posted by fw, December 1, 2018

Dying patient                                                       Dying Earth

“There’s probably a health warning attached to this lecture. This isn’t a lecture that’s going to leave you feeling elated, I don’t think. There’s not a lot of good news to be told. But I’m going to start at least on an upbeat note. I’m going to tell you the only joke I know about climate change. The joke goes like this — Two planets are talking to one another and one planet says: “Do you know what? I don’t feel so good. I think I’ve got Homo Sapiens.” And the other planet says: “I wouldn’t worry. It doesn’t last for long.” —Hugh Montgomery

On that upbeat note, Hugh Montgomery jump-starts his talk to a public gathering at a lecture series event on November 8, 2018, sponsored by Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Montgomery’s joke evoked laughter from the audience. Forty minutes later, after sharing “not a lot of good news” he retold the joke. The response this time — deafening silence – prompting him to lament:

“It’s not so funny 40-minutes into the talk. Some of you will probably want to leave and slash your wrists right now, which is fine, or drink yourself into a stupor.”   

What did Montgomery tell the gathering in his talk that they found so foreboding?

My combination of notes and quotes in the post below is intended to complement the video of Montgomery’s talk. Included in the post is an embedded video of the 1-hour, 26-minute event. The video features a 10-minute introduction to the event and to Hugh Montgomery, his 40-minute talk, followed by a 40-minute Q&A with the audience. This post focuses solely on the talk.

Hugh Edward Montgomery is professor of Intensive Care Medicine at University College London (UCL) and  director of the Centre for Human Health and Performance at University College LondonMontgomery has been awarded the title of London Leader by the London Sustainable Development Commission for his work in climate change and health under the auspices of Project Genie; he was also a founding member of the UK Climate and Health Council.

Re the title of Montgomery’s talk, Health and Climate Change: Query of Febrile Planet – the word ‘febrile’ means having or showing the symptoms of a fever. But as Montgomery makes clear, planet Earth is afflicted by so much more than a mere fever.

Note: To watch the video on You Tube, rather than with the embedded version on my blog, just click on the linked title below.

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Health and Climate Change: Query of Febrile Planet talk by Hugh Montgomery, published by EPA Ireland, November 8, 2018. (1-hr, 26-minutes)

Welcome and opening remarks by Laura Burke, director-general of Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency

Here is my take on selected parts what she said

This is another in a series of climate lectures. The theme of the series of talks is Climate Change and Health. Previous talks dealt with the science of climate change, climate communications, and climate policy response. We have in the past also dealt with the potential impact to health, but indirectly, and tonight we are taking this head on, looking in particular at the force multiplier effect that climate change presents for a range of existing sustainability and health care challenges.

Climate change is with us and the sooner we act the less damage will be done to our society, our economy and our environment. Last year extreme weather nature reminded us just who’s in charge; what we need to do to stop aggravating the situation and to adapt; lists the damage; adaptation actions are essential for environmental and economic resilience

Hugh Montgomery’s talk considers the systemic nature of the pressures on our environment and by extension our health, for they are indivisible. And through examination of the interconnected current and near future challenges to harmonious and sustainable human occupation of our blue planet, and through looking at these symptoms he prompts us on what is to be done for this malaise.

The Climate Change Action series is an important public engagement opportunity where the impact of climate change can be exchanged and discussed in an open and constructive way. Recordings of the lectures are available online at http://www.epa-pictaural.com/nav/sCc.php , and on our You Tube series subscription.

Ireland’s EPA goal is transition to a low-carbon, sustainable and resilient society and economy. But overall we are together and proactively identifying and generating the evidence necessary to understand these challenges and to inform action. The open public dialog supported by research and evidence, will make for more timely and more successful interventions because only with a whole of society engagement will we be likely to succeed in our transition ambitions.

Montgomery begins his talk at 10:30 minutes into the video, opening with his joke —

There’s probably a health warning attached to this lecture. This isn’t a lecture that’s going to leave you feeling elated, I don’t think. There’s not a lot of good news to be told. But I’m going to start at least on an upbeat note. I’m going to tell you the only joke I know about climate change.

The joke goes like this” Two planets are talking to one another and one planet says: “Do you know what? I don’t feel so good. I think I’ve got Homo Sapiens.” And the other planet says: “I wouldn’t worry. It doesn’t last for long.

During his lecture, Montgomery draws an analogy between a patient in intensive care and our planet Earth’s struggle to survive a bad case of 2000 plus years of Homo Sapiens. Earth’s survival is at stake. Which prompts the speaker to make sobering comments like these in his presentation:

Climate change is a force multiplier with all the environmental impacts. So think of that patient. It’s the climate change that will see us off this planet – On top of what we’re already doing to it.

Climate change is the greatest global health threat of the 21st century

So if you want me to put my money on the table and say where’s the biggest threat first from climate change in health, it’s war, and it’s coming to a place near you very soon.

In place of a human patient’s medical chart, I have created, for Planet Earth, A Disease Cloud – which seems appropriate since we are living under a cloud – a massive cloud. (What I call a “Cloud” can also be thought of as a sort of Table of Contents). The purpose of the Disease Cloud (Table of Contents) is to give you a quick overview of many of the human-caused “diseases” afflicting Earth, which Montgomery touches on in his address.

For the greater part of his talk, Dr. Montgomery enriches his delivery with informative graphs and images. His information-rich presentation, peppered with numbers, more numbers, and still more numbers, can be overwhelming at times, which is why I opted for the Cloud rather than what would have been a painfully long conventional transcript of his talk with image inserts. Besides the video includes scrolling closed caption text and the images.

At about the 45-minute mark of the video, Montgomery begins his frightening, closing remarks. I have included an abridged transcript of his conclusion following the embedded video. But first the Cloud.

A Disease Cloud for Planet Earth

The VIDEOHealth and Climate Change: Query of Febrile Planet

Montgomery’s Conclusion to His Talk (Transcribed)

44:56Climate change is a massive threat but let me just remind you that in the background up to eight extinctions an hour and this massive collapse in the number of species on our planet. And if we think it’s bad now at a little over 1°C. What nonsense is it that we’re talking about a deal to try to stay below two? It’s insane. And not only is it insane, we can’t stay below 2°C. There isn’t a hope in hell. And the reason for that is to point out what happens if we get to 4°C. According to Philosophical Transactions in 2011 “a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community … beyond adaptation … devastating to the majority of ecosystems.” So you don’t like one; you’re not going to like two – and if you’ve got anywhere close to four it’s over for you.

These are know as Representative Concentration Pathways or RCPs. If we were to try to stay below two you’d be on RCP 2.1 or RCP 2.6. You’d have to plant the entire crop producing area of Europe with bomber fuel to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere. You’ll need geo-engineering. So that’s not going to happen at all. Currently you’re heading much more towards RCP 8.5 which will take us to somewhere north of 900 parts per million [of CO2 in the atmosphere] and that will put you on a trajectory of well over 5°C degrees in the lifetime of your children. Think about the fact that we’ve lost 60% of the life on this planet of vertebrates since I was a small child. And think about what we’re now suggesting we add in the form of climate change.

Don’t believe that the Paris deal is doing anything, because it isn’t. We haven’t peaked in our greenhouse gas emissions. We haven’t even started reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. They’re still going up. There was a small pause when the global economy tanked [in 2008] but now things are picking up again, it’s business as usual. And when we’re seeing more wind farms and more solar, it’s not substituting for fossil fuels, it’s adding energy to a different global mix of energy production.

That’s how Monty Python would have seen humanity’s behaviour.

And let me take you back to the joke with which I started. 

Two planets are talking to one another and one planet says: “Do you know what? I don’t feel so good. I think I’ve got Homo Sapiens.” And the other planet says: “I wouldn’t worry. It doesn’t last for long.

And it’s not so funny 40-minutes into the talk. Some of you will probably want to leave and slash your wrists right now, which is fine, or drink yourself into a stupor.

48:06 END OF TALK

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