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Ulster Med J. 2010 January; 79(1): 44.
PMCID: PMC2938998


Reviewed by Patrick J Morrison, Prof

THE HEALTH PRACTITIONER'S GUIDE TO CLIMATE CHANGE. DIAGNOSIS AND CURE.  J Griffiths, M Rao, F Adshead, A Thorpe, editors. (Eds).  Earthscan,  2009. Paperback,  380pp. £ 19.99. ISBN  978-1-84407-729-8.  
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Having had one of the very first solar powered water heating systems in Belfast, it was perhaps inevitable that I would be deemed by the editor to have sufficient ‘green’ credentials to review this book.

Climate change is a controversial topic and readers of this journal may have views somewhere between ‘ardent supporter’ and ‘clear rejectionist’. Global temperatures naturally fluctuate over the centuries so how do you decide what is a normal time trend and what is abnormal?. The authors of this book recognise that a range of views exist and very helpfully separate the book into two sections – information and action.

The four chapters on information present the evidence of how climate trends have changed significantly outside normal variation particularly since human behaviour (circa. 1950 onwards) allowed global industrialisation on a scale more significant since that seen in Western European countries in the industrial revolution. Chapters on the hard facts, and the impact and benefits to heath of taking action are extremely well written by experts in the field, and are easy to read. Some interesting facts include the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in the USA in 2006 where dangerous chemical contamination resulting from flooding, and water borne infections caused a sharp increase in morbidity and mortality. Overall $100 billion of damage ensued. Obesity resulting from lack of exercise and increased use of cars and other changes in exercise habits also add to the effect.

The eight chapters on action give plenty of advice to health professionals on how to help change behaviour at both individual and at organisational level. Individual changes in behaviour, although small, generate significant changes and as the authors point out, leading by example is always helpful as most changes have to start small to gain traction. The current economic climate has also helped organisations focus on ways of change to save money in addition to the moral reasoning behind most climate change ideas. Ideas and tips on disinvestment and potential ‘big savings for big organisations’ will help motivate chief executives to open a copy of this book and to read it. 11 key steps for organisations are listed and discussions on the organisations reputation are fairly interesting reading – displaying the energy efficiency certificates for the public to read may strike fear into some organisations so being proactive will help salvage some reputations.

A step by step guide is given to help calculate your individual carbon footprint so having done this, you can then either boast to your friends, or take some quiet remedial action, depending on the score.

One thing that should be fixed for the next edition is the quality of the diagrams, in black and white and possibly due to the vegetable based ink, these are not that clear, and some colour diagrams would add to the book. If cost is an issue, then a colour plate in the centre of the book would be helpful. Otherwise this is an excellent book and worthwhile reading for every health professional including managers at the top of organisations for a very reasonable price. Our local politicians should also read a copy which should be reasonably easy to claim on expenses.

And what about the solar panels – were they worth it, I hear you ask? They were put in at the start of the century thinking that within 10 years they might break even, and then make a small profit, so a long term investment was the motive as well as any potential ecological credentials. The upside is that with the price of oil rocketing two years after they were installed, they recovered their cost in under five years – half the time I expected - so a good investment, as some other forms of solar and thermal systems have extremely long payback and often are not worthwhile with current costs. The downside is that although I have excess hot water for showers and baths between March and October that we cannot use, my two teenage sons still spend as long in the shower in the morning for the other third of the year so the winter heating bills have risen even if the summer ones are tiny, but at least I have two clean sons…..

Articles from The Ulster Medical Journal are provided here courtesy of Ulster Medical Society