Global Climate Change: You Can Help!

 In Environmental Medicine

Mitch Kennedy, ND

Possible Repercussions from Weather Changes

Shifting weather patterns change the timing and spread of disease. For example, stronger windstorms can carry dirt, microbes and virus particles into areas that previously were not touched by these storms. The “monsoon” season of Arizona may extend in time or in geographic area and encompass New Mexico or Nevada, bringing strains of airborne diseases never seen in that ecosystem.

Weather fluctuations from climate change also affect the seasonal adjustment and biorhythms we humans maintain. Human biorhythms and circadian rhythms sync with the change of seasons; there are changes in melatonin, serotonin, vitamin D and cortisol production, all related to the amount of daylight and cloud cover.

Perturbations in the climate will bring warm weather when it’s usually cold, or cold weather when we expect warm. During this past, exceptionally warm winter on the East Coast, I saw a large increase in colds and flu corresponding to days when the weather changed unexpectedly. I theorize that this leaves people poorly dressed for the occasion and results in invasion of external pathogenic influences as described in TCM. There may also be pyscho-neuro-immunologic aspects relating to our expectation of how the weather “should be” at a particular time of year.

Extreme weather events that disrupt power, heating or cooling, or food distribution systems will also create regional disease outbreaks. No better example can be seen than the lack of response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the aftermath of these storms. Even now, we are seeing disease outbreaks of respiratory infections and allergies as the cleanup continues. With a shortage of health providers and healthcare facilities, demand is high but supply of services is very low.

How We Can Help

At this point, some people throw up their hands and go from a mindset of denial about climate change to one of despair, without stopping to take action. It is so important to realize that we can solve this problem! At the very least, we can mitigate its impact so our children and grandchildren are spared the worst possible outcomes.

With that in mind, here is a list of how you and your patients can help remedy this global disease.

  • Buy locally grown and produced foods. The average meal in the U.S. travels 1,200 miles from the farm to your plate. Buying locally will save fuel; keep money in your community; and support local food production, which may be needed in a short or long emergency.
  • Buy fresh foods instead of frozen. Frozen food requires 10 times more energy to produce.
  • Seek out and support local farmers’ markets. They reduce the amount of energy required to grow and transport the food to you by one-fifth. You can find a farmer’s market in your area at the USDA Web site,
  • Buy organic foods as much as possible. Organic soils capture and store carbon dioxide at much higher levels than soils from conventional farms. If we grew all of our corn and soybeans organically, we’d remove 580 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere!
  • Eat less meat. Methane is the second most significant greenhouse gas, and cows are one of the greatest methane emitters. Cows fed a corn-based diet produce the largest amounts of methane through flatus and breathing.
  • Reduce the number of miles you drive by walking, biking, carpooling or taking mass transit whenever possible. Avoiding just 10 miles of driving each week would eliminate about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
  • Start a carpool with coworkers or classmates. Sharing a ride with someone just two days a week will reduce your carbon dioxide emissions by 1,590 pounds a year. com runs a free national service connecting commuters and travelers.
  • Keep your car tuned up. Regular maintenance helps improve fuel efficiency and reduces emissions. When just 1% of car owners properly maintain their cars, nearly a billion pounds of carbon dioxide are kept out of the atmosphere.
  • Replace a regular incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb. Compact fluorescent light bulbs use 60% less energy than a regular bulb. This simple switch will save about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. If every family in the U.S. made the switch, we’d reduce carbon dioxide by more than 90 billion pounds! You can purchase compact fluorescent bulbs online from org.
  • Move your thermostat down 2 degrees Fahrenheit (F) in winter and up 2 degrees F in summer. Almost half of the energy we use in our homes goes to heating and cooling. You could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year with this simple adjustment. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy,, has more tips for saving energy on heating and cooling.
  • Clean or replace filters on your furnace and air conditioner. Cleaning a dirty air filter can save 350 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
  • Build, remodel or renovate using “Green” techniques. As a Green Building Consultant, I have seen tremendous energy and cost savings when people use smart or eco-design in construction. It is now possible to create a “Net Zero” building that creates as much energy (usually through solar and wind) as it uses. The carbon footprint of this type of construction is easy on the wallet and the planet.
  • Wrap your water heater in an insulation blanket. You’ll save 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year with this simple action. You can save another 550 pounds per year by setting its thermostat no higher than 120 degrees F.
  • Use less hot water. It takes a lot of energy to heat water. You can use less hot water by installing a low-flow showerhead (350 pounds of carbon dioxide saved per year) and washing clothes in cold or warm water (500 pounds saved per year) instead of hot.
  • Use a clothesline instead of a dryer whenever possible. You can save 700 pounds of carbon dioxide when you air-dry your clothes for six months of the year.
  • Turn off electronic devices you’re not using. Simply turning off your television, DVD player, stereo and computer when you’re not using them will save you thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
  • Unplug electronics from the wall when you’re not using them. Even when turned off, things like hairdryers, cell phone chargers and televisions use energy. In fact, the energy used to keep display clocks lit and memory chips working accounts for 5% of total domestic energy consumption and spews 18 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year! (We plug our TV, VCR, DVD and computer into a power strip and then unplug the strip.)
  • Insulate and weatherize your home. Properly insulating your walls and ceilings can save 25% of your home heating bill and 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. Caulking and weather-stripping can save another 1,700 pounds per year. The Consumer Federation of America,, has more information on how to better insulate your home.
  • Recycle at home. You can save 2,400 pounds of carbon dioxide a year by recycling half of the waste your household generates. can help you find recycling resources in your area.
  • Buy recycled paper products. It takes 70% to 90% less energy to make recycled paper, and it prevents the loss of forests worldwide.
  • Plant a tree. A single tree will absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. Shade provided by trees can also reduce your air conditioning bill by 10% to 15%. The Arbor Day Foundation,, has information on planting, and provides trees with membership.
  • Get a home energy audit. Many utility companies offer free home energy audits to find where your home is poorly insulated or energy inefficient. You can save up to 30% off your energy bill and 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. can help you find an energy specialist.
  • Switch to Green power. In many areas, you can switch to energy generated by clean, renewable sources such as wind and solar. The Green Power Network,, is a good place to start to figure out what’s available in your area.
  • Avoid heavily packaged products. You can save 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide if you cut down your garbage by 10%.

Kennedy-HeadshotMitch Kennedy, ND has a family practice in Avon, CT, and is the first ND with clinical privileges at the University of Connecticut, a teaching hospital. Before graduation from Southwest College, Kennedy earned an international reputation as a leader in pollution prevention, showing industries around the world how preventing pollution saves money.


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