In a world where climate change has become a hot topic as a result of increasingly common environmental disasters, physicians Paul Auerbach and Jay Lemery aim to shift the conversation from the environment to health impacts with their new book “Enviromedics: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health.”
Auerbach, a Los Altos resident, and Lemery, from Colorado, said they coined the term “enviromedics,” defined in the book as “the effects, consequences, and study of the impacts of environmental change upon human health.”
Published this month by Rowman & Littlefield, they wrote “Enviromedics” from the perspective of two medical doctors rather than climate scientists – focusing on health rather than environmental impacts. When conducting research for the book, the authors compiled information on why climate change was occurring and how the change was affecting the population, adjusting scientific and medical terms to make the book easier to understand for laypeople.
“It was a lot of research, because I’m not a climate scientist,” said Auerbach, an emergency physician at Stanford Hospital. “We have formed our opinions about global climate change based on the science, so the premise of the book is that if the consensus predicted changes occur, there will be potentially catastrophic human health impacts. That’s what we wanted to highlight in the book.”
“Enviromedics” aims to explain the health consequences and environmental impacts of natural disasters, from wildfires in California to droughts in India.
Auerbach cited the raging wildfires last week in the North Bay as the result of an extended fire season very possibly due to global warming.
“While we cannot say with certainty that any specific fire was caused by environmental change, the fact is that the fire season, typified by rising temperatures and decreased humidity, is now months longer and certainly contributes to overall fire risk,” Auerbach said. “We will be seeing more cataclysmic events like this. With the flames come burns, and with the smoke come more asthma, suffering for people with chronic lung problems, and a host of other problems, like coughing, headaches, fatigue, and depression.”
The climate-change-related uptick in hurricanes and subsequent flooding, he added, spread bacteria and toxins in the water, and cause drownings. The extreme heat brought on by climate change increases risks for strokes and heart attacks.
Getting the message across
To better illustrate the consequences of climate change, Auerbach and Lemery include anecdotal vignettes throughout their book. Each vignette tells a short story based on patients the two physicians have cared for or other historical accounts of people affected by various diseases.
“People can relate to stories and personal experiences,” Auerbach said. “People who have asthma can identify with a narrative about a person who has asthma. People who live in wildfire territory can relate to an account about somebody who’s affected in a fire. People pay attention to stories, which make them a great way to get the message across.”
Along with the book’s information on impacts to human health, the Afterword in “Enviromedics” highlights young adult activists who shared their beliefs about climate change and the importance of environmental awareness. The young activists’ messages serve as a reminder that each generation must do their part to protect the planet.
“We chose to identify young people who are environmental activists, to let them read the book and get their impression of what this kind of environmental awareness meant to them,” Auerbach said. “We can’t bury our heads in the sand about this issue. The planet will be here regardless of what we do – it’s just that the people may not.”