Photo: 24 Hours of Reality: A health perspective

Heart disease is a symptom of environmental problems (Credit: David Goehring via Flickr).


The Climate Reality Project and the David Suzuki Foundation will present 24 Hours of Reality on September 14 and 15. This world-wide event aims to expose the reality of the climate crisis and the urgency to act, with 24 presentations in 24 time zones over 24 hours. The event will be broadcast online beginning at 7 p.m. local time in Mexico City on September 14 and ending with a multimedia presentation by Nobel laureate and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in New York City at 7 p.m. on September 15.

Docs Talk asked François Reeves to share his reflections on the importance of this campaign from a human health perspective. Dr. Reeves is an interventional cardiologist, associate professor of medicine at the University of Montreal and author of the book Planète Cœur: santé cardiaque et environnement (Planet Heart: Cardiac health and the environment). He also volunteers as a "science ambassador" for the David Suzuki Foundation in Quebec.

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Docs Talk: You recently wrote a book that makes the case for looking at cardiac health as an environmental issue. What inspired you to write it and what is its core message?

Dr. Reeves: In my book I link different studies around the world that show that heart disease is clearly a symptom of environmental problems. Air pollutants released when we burn fossil fuels (fine particles of soot, ozone, CO, NO2, SO2) and other molecules introduced by the food industry (trans fats, glucose-fructose syrup, excess salt, phosphoric acid) work together to induce oxidative stress on our arterial network. These "nano-aggressors" — products of the industrial revolution — can lead to heart attacks and strokes. In Canada, an estimated 11,000 cardiac-related deaths are caused by environmental factors. Eliminating toxic air pollutants and food additives could reduce cardiometabolic syndrome and cardiovascular deaths by 25 to 50 per cent. The discovery of a drug with these results would be worth a Nobel Prize! We must recognize that our health is the environment and the environment is our health. The two are inseparable.

Docs Talk: Climate change is often described as the most important environmental issue of our time. Is climate change also a health issue?

Dr. Reeves: Even before the climate began to warm, the massive use of fossil fuels that powered the industrial revolution caused its share of fatalities. As noted in my previous blog post on the subject, several smog episodes caused thousands of cardiovascular deaths. In fact, both the Earth and humans are under attack by fossil fuel combustion. The CO2 emitted leads¬ to global warming and climate change, glacier melting, ocean acidification and loss of coral and marine life. For us, these fine particles and other air pollutants cause oxidative stress on our arteries, which leads to thrombosis, heart attack, stroke and sudden death.

Docs Talk: What are the effects of climate change on health internationally?

Dr. Reeves: Temperature is energy. The warming of the planet simply means there will be more and more severe weather. Demographically, we see that waterfront populations are experiencing significant and growing events, like the recent events in Quebec on the Iles-de-la-Madeleine, in the Gaspé area and on the Richelieu. Australia has endured several years of severe drought, which has also recently hit Texas. Meanwhile, elsewhere there is heavy rain causing severe damage and devastating mudslides. Major droughts and flash floods here and there are an indication of increasingly severe weather phenomena.

In countries with emerging economies, where unbridled growth is fuelled heavily by fossil fuels, major repercussions are already evident. In China, Russia and India, heart attacks and strokes have quadrupled in the last 50 years because of the substantial exposure to pollutants.

Docs Talk: Looking at climate change as a public health issue, what response is needed in Canada?

Dr. Reeves: Our goal should be to reduce exposure to the vascular "nano-aggressors" mentioned above. Several measures can play a role in improving air quality and keeping harmful additives out of our food. In fact, if we aim for a "heart smart" environment, climate change solutions will often follow. For example, designing heart-healthy neighbourhoods involves maintaining and protecting green spaces, such as the Montreal green belt. It also favours active transportation and a mix of transportation options that makes it easier to leave the car behind. It favours local, organic food as much as possible. Consumer habits must always be re-examined. There are a thousand examples of how we can conserve energy and decarbonize our energy supply by moving away from fossil fuels.

Docs Talk: What can we do to promote solutions to the climate crisis?

Dr. Reeves: The first thing is to consciously face this reality. There are many sources of information, but there are two books in particular that come to mind: Hubert Reeves's Terracide and David Suzuki's The Sacred Balance. Several excellent sites and movements propose solutions, individual and societal. Energy efficiency and conservation solutions (with the goal of decarbonizing our energy supply) are particularly important and applicable in our daily routines. These measures are beneficial for our health, as well as the climate. When pollution decreases, cardiac mortality also declines. In all, an extended application of the concept of hygiene is essential for our quality of life: environmental hygiene. Promoting these measures involves all educational, administrative and political channels.

The David Suzuki Foundation invites you to participate in the 24 Hours of Reality event September 14 to 15. Visit the event's Facebook page for details.

Other ways to get involved:

September 12, 2011

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