Climate change, public health and the Kyoto Accord

Dr. Colin Soskolne of the public health sciences department--recipient of a $183,000 grant to study climate change and extreme weather events in Alberta--says Canada could be squandering an opportunity to lead the world community if it doesn't ratify the accord. "It's a question of solidarity with impoverished countries," he said, "a question of our moral standing in the world."

He also says the oil industry is misleading the public on the costs of Kyoto. "Where we need to point fingers are at the vested interests who seem to take a very short-term and prejudicial view of the information, misleading the public in their positions. The energy sector would be the culprit in all of this."

He points to the tobacco industry as the closest analogy, "which hired the finest public relations spin doctors to discount the science, to bias their studies." We are now left with tens of thousands of tobacco-related deaths each year in North America.

What bothers Soskolne most, however, is the absence of health concerns from almost every economic forecast on Kyoto. The federal-provincial report released last week in the Globe failed to take them into account, and they were also missing from the panel discussions held at the business faculty last month.

According to Soskolne, health should be front and centre in any debate on global warming. He has a lengthy list of health risks associated with global warming, including temperature-related deaths, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, social and mental health stress due to disasters, skin damage and cancer, an increase in pathogens carried by mosquitoes and other insects, and an increase in diseases caused by water and food-borne contamination.

"Think of Edmonton with no North Saskatchewan River as a result of the Columbia Icefields or Athabasca Glacier no longer providing water or providing it in far less quantity. Think of the concentration of pollutants in a much-reduced river flow situation." He says one can't even begin to translate the effect of all that into dollars, let alone the stress on our lives.

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