The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health

MIT Press
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Why our dependence on coal-produced energy is bad for our health: a physician maps the connections of burning coal to death and disease.

We will not find “exposure to burning coal” listed as the cause of death on a single death certificate, but tens of thousands of deaths from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses are clearly linked to coal-derived pollution. As politicians and advertising campaigns extol the virtues of “clean coal,” the dirty secret is that coal kills. In The Silent Epidemic, Alan Lockwood, a physician, describes and documents the adverse health effects of burning coal. Lockwood's comprehensive treatment examines every aspect of coal, from its complex chemical makeup to details of mining, transporting, burning, and disposal—each of which generates significant health concerns. He describes coal pollution's effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems, and how these problems will only get worse; explains the impact of global warming on coal-related health problems; and discusses possible policy approaches to combat coal pollution.

Coal fueled the industrial revolution and has become a major source of energy in virtually every country. In the United States, almost half of the energy used to generate electricity comes from burning coal. Relatively few people are aware of the health threats posed by coal-derived pollutants, and those who are aware lack the political clout of the coal industry. Lockwood's straightforward description of coal as a health hazard is especially timely, given the barrage of marketing efforts to promote coal as part of “energy independence.” His message is clear and urgent: “Coal-fired plants make people sick and die, particularly children and those with chronic illnesses, and they cost society huge amounts of money desperately needed for other purposes.”

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About the author

Alan H. Lockwood, M.D., is Emeritus Professor of Neurology and Nuclear Medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo and a Senior Scientist at Physicians for Social Responsibility. He is the author of The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health (MIT Press).

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Additional Information

Publisher
MIT Press
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Published on
Aug 17, 2012
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Pages
248
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ISBN
9780262304481
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Industries / Energy
Medical / Health Policy
Medical / Public Health
Science / Environmental Science
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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How climate change can affect our health, from heat-related illnesses to extreme weather events.

Climate change affects not just the planet but the people who live on it. In this book, physician Alan Lockwood describes how global warming will be bad for our health. Drawing on peer-reviewed scientific and medical research, Lockwood meticulously details the symptoms of climate change and their medical side effects.

Our global ecosystems create webs of interdependence that support life on the planet. Lockwood shows how climate change is affecting these ecosystems and describes the resulting impact on health. For example, rising temperatures create long-duration heat waves during which people sicken and die. Climate change increases the risk for certain infectious diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Zika, and Lyme disease. Extreme weather and poor soil conditions cause agricultural shortfalls, leading to undernutrition and famine. There is even evidence that violence increases in warmer weather—including a study showing that pitchers throw “beanballs” (balls thrown with the intention of hitting the batter) significantly more often in hot weather.

Climate change is real and it is happening now. We must use what we know to adapt to a warmer world and minimize adverse health effects: make city buildings cooler with air conditioning and “cool roofs,” for example, and mobilize resources for predicted outbreaks of disease. But, Lockwood points out, we also need prevention. The ultimate preventive medicine is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and replacing energy sources that depend on fossil fuels with those that do not.

A New York Times bestseller/Washington Post Notable Book of 2017/NPR Best Books of 2017/Wall Street Journal Best Books of 2017 

"This book will serve as the definitive guide to the past and future of health care in America.”—Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene  

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In these troubled times, perhaps no institution has unraveled more quickly and more completely than American medicine. In only a few decades, the medical system has been overrun by organizations seeking to exploit for profit the trust that vulnerable and sick Americans place in their healthcare. Our politicians have proven themselves either unwilling or incapable of reining in the increasingly outrageous costs faced by patients, and market-based solutions only seem to funnel larger and larger sums of our money into the hands of corporations. Impossibly high insurance premiums and inexplicably large bills have become facts of life; fatalism has set in. Very quickly Americans have been made to accept paying more for less. How did things get so bad so fast?

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The system is in tatters, but we can fight back. Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal doesn't just explain the symptoms, she diagnoses and treats the disease itself. In clear and practical terms, she spells out exactly how to decode medical doublespeak, avoid the pitfalls of the pharmaceuticals racket, and get the care you and your family deserve. She takes you inside the doctor-patient relationship and to hospital C-suites, explaining step-by-step the workings of a system badly lacking transparency. This is about what we can do, as individual patients, both to navigate the maze that is American healthcare and also to demand far-reaching reform. An American Sickness is the frontline defense against a healthcare system that no longer has our well-being at heart.
How climate change can affect our health, from heat-related illnesses to extreme weather events.

Climate change affects not just the planet but the people who live on it. In this book, physician Alan Lockwood describes how global warming will be bad for our health. Drawing on peer-reviewed scientific and medical research, Lockwood meticulously details the symptoms of climate change and their medical side effects.

Our global ecosystems create webs of interdependence that support life on the planet. Lockwood shows how climate change is affecting these ecosystems and describes the resulting impact on health. For example, rising temperatures create long-duration heat waves during which people sicken and die. Climate change increases the risk for certain infectious diseases, including malaria, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Zika, and Lyme disease. Extreme weather and poor soil conditions cause agricultural shortfalls, leading to undernutrition and famine. There is even evidence that violence increases in warmer weather—including a study showing that pitchers throw “beanballs” (balls thrown with the intention of hitting the batter) significantly more often in hot weather.

Climate change is real and it is happening now. We must use what we know to adapt to a warmer world and minimize adverse health effects: make city buildings cooler with air conditioning and “cool roofs,” for example, and mobilize resources for predicted outbreaks of disease. But, Lockwood points out, we also need prevention. The ultimate preventive medicine is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and replacing energy sources that depend on fossil fuels with those that do not.

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