An Illness to One is the Concern of All: The Health Impacts of Rising Fossil Fuel Use

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 4.38.47 PMThis TUED Working Paper has been written to help unions representing workers in all sectors get a clear sense of what is presently happening in terms of the health impacts of fossil fuel use and what could also happen if present patterns in energy use continue into the future.

Authored by Svati Shah and Sean Sweeney, the paper draws attention
dual crisis: the alarming implications for human health caused by pollution and by climate change, both of which are being made worse by the growing use of coal, oil, and gas

The amount of fossil fuels being burned on an annual basis globally is more than twice the levels of just 25 years ago. Global agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) have struggled to stay on top of the health impacts of this disturbing trend, but recent WHO studies point to an alarming increase in the number of lives seriously damaged and, in millions of cases annually, cut short as a result of exposure the fossil-based pollution.  Working alongside the WHO, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has focused attention on the health impacts of climate change and climate-related events. Patterns of disease are changing along with the climate, and the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report released in November 2014 concluded that warming temperatures are already having a serious impact on human health, and many of these impacts are expected to increase in severity in the coming years.

An Illness to One is the Concern of All presents the main findings of these and other recent reports in a way that unions can use to more effectively advocate both for their members and the broader public.

Unions in health care can play—indeed are playing—a particularly important role in addressing both the climate-related and the pollution-related dimensions of the unfolding health crisis, as can health and safety personnel working with or for unions in different sectors. But the health-related impacts of rising pollution levels and climate change are expected to affect the lives of workers across a range of occupations. Unions representing workers in emergency services, transport systems, or who must work outdoors in agriculture or construction, can join together to address this dual crisis and advocate for adequate resources to meet present-day and future challenges.

The prospect of a warmer, more polluted, and more unstable planet will, at a minimum, require
health and essential services that are fully staffed and resourced in order to deal with the challenges ahead. However, it is equally pressing to continue to fight to resist the expansion of fossil fuel use, reclaim the energy economy to the public sphere, and to set in motion a restructuring of the relations of energy
supply, management, and consumption.

Unions may also wish to examine an April 2016 report released by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in partnership with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and Union Network International (UNI). Titled Climate Change and Labour: Impacts of Heat in the Workplace, the report focuses on how a warming world could seriously impact occupational health, particularly for those working outdoors in agriculture or construction or in factories without air conditioning.

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