A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

Global Climate Change Tipping Point? It's Not Healthy to Ignore This

Global Climate Change Tipping Point? It's Not Healthy to Ignore This

August 14, 2005

HCFA's crack webmaster, John Lin, pointed me to this frightening story from last week's Guardian. Briefly, an area in western Siberia with size of France and Germany combined, covered with permafrost since the Ice Age (about 11,000 years ago) is undergoing rapid melting. Lodged under this permafrost is an awesome peat bog loaded with the powerful greenhouse gas methane. No models or calculations on the threat and pace of global climate change have factored in the addition of this new vast reservoir of greenhouse gases, though the implications are profound and startling.

This is not our beat at HCFA, for sure. Since seeing the story, I've spoken with friends in the environmental movement, all of whom are familiar with this alarming development. Many of us are familiar with the icon of chaos theory -- a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan can trigger a tornado across the globe. This is more than a butterfly as the Siberian permafrost has been estimated to contain 1/4 of all the ground-based methane gas on our planet.

Maybe this has nothing to do with health care policy, and maybe it does. The kind of changes global climate change could trigger could sure be a distraction from universal coverage. Every other advanced society on our planet figured out how to provide health security to all their residents back in the 20th century. Here we are still struggling to figure it out in the 21st, alone among nations. Meanwhile we're the leading nation contributing to global climate change and sticking our heads in the sand in addressing it.

I remember back in the 1980s, we had this awful threat from the growing hole in the ozone layer over Antartica. Somehow, the world community got its act together and fixed that problem. What a remarkable achievement. What will it take to trigger a repeat?