Medicine and climate change
Do doctors have special moral responsibilities?
- By: Julian Sheather
It has been called a perfect moral storm.1 It is a problem so complex, stubborn, and severe that if we discount outright deniers, even its more optimistic forecasters have been heard speaking in hushed apocalyptic tones. US secretary of state John Kerry recently described the consequences of inaction as “catastrophic.”2 I am talking of course about man-made climate change. Among the fanfare generated by the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were predictions that a warming planet will unleash a horde of health problems. Changes in global temperature patterns will lead to shifting disease vectors. Extremes of temperature will kill people. Rising sea levels and creeping desertification will lead to conflicts over land and water. Food supplies will be disrupted. Given the health impacts of climate change—and given that some of those affected will be our future patients—do doctors and other health professionals have particular ethical