Episode five, Season three of the Climate Curious podcast is now live with our special guest, Shweta Narayan.

“It’s impossible to have healthy people on a sick planet,says climate and health campaigner Shweta Narayan on the latest episode of the Climate Curious podcast by TEDxLondon.

Speaking at TED’s Countdown event in Edinburgh, we spoke to the Health Care Without Harm campaign following the performance of her TED Talk, where she explored how greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants encroach on both our atmosphere and our bodies. 

The big idea 

Health is the overlooked piece of the climate puzzle.

Ancient wisdom offers humanity hope in this new phase of civilization, where individual well-being and environmental health intersect.

Environmental destruction is the biggest global health issue threatening humanity today — straining infrastructure and power grids, spurring pandemics and causing pollution. Shweta Narayan introduces a new perspective: by viewing climate change and degradation through the lens of the Hippocratic Oath — an ancient set of ethical standards sworn by physicians — every person has a role to play in ecological survival. Narayan encourages us to place “first do no harm” to the planet at the heart of all of our choices.

Invisible harm 

Climate damage is not calculated in terms of health cost unless somebody dies. 

“If your policies are right, your people are going to be healthy. So if the climate is going downhill, we become sick, right? We become unhealthy. So the climate crisis is a health crisis. It translates into what you breathe, what you eat, what you drink, where you are, and where you’re forced out of” –Shweta Narayan.

Shweta Narayan

Shweta explains how environmental damage is not just affecting our lungs and our ability to drink clean water, it’s affecting kids’ development and specifically their ability to perform in school.

The worst bit? The harm done to people is invisible. It’s not the same as when we see forests burning, ice caps melting and towns flooding – which all very visual examples of destruction. Lung damage is silent, IQ damage is invisible, we are hurting ourselves and our loved ones, and we don’t even know it’s happening. “Poor air quality has a direct impact on your IQ levels. The toxins in your water and air is making you intellectually poorer. By no fault of your own,” Shweta explains.

The tipping point? Shweta says that we only sit up and consider the intersection of health and climate when somebody dies. That’s how harm is calculated.

“It’s not calculated in terms of costs unless somebody dies. But how do you put a cost to my ability to go out? And just breathe clean air?” Shweta shares. 

“Baby Beach” with oil refineries in the background in Aruba. Photo credit: CC BY 2.0.

How? Less hippos, more Hippocrates

The Greek physician Hippocrates created the founding text of modern medicine, recommending that physicians can do two things: either they do good, or they do no harm. 

This principle of “do no harm” forms the Hippocratic oath, which today is mandatory for physicians to take that oath to protect their patients. This means when you become a physician, your focus is always on your patient and the patient’s best interests. You do good to your patients, or you try not to harm your patients.

What would the world look like if a wider spectrum of actors took on one of the oldest codes of ethics – to “do no harm”? Just think – citizens, policymakers, businesses could apply this same principle to their work. Encouraging all stakeholders to pu equity and justice at the heart of their decisions.

Protecting everyone 

‘Business as usual’ means at the end of the century there will be 70 million additional deaths because of heat alone.

The even harder truth? The planet will be fine. It’s the people that will not be fine.

The sooner we can recognise this, the greater chance we have of figuring out a away to survive and extend humanity’s existence on the planet.

Before we get there – lower-income people must not become a shield for climate damage.

“The poor cannot become a shield. That’s why in tackling the climate crisis, equity and justice has to be at the centre of it. And one way to bring in equity and justice is from the reference of health.” 

Shweta Narayan

As Shweta put it so aptly, “if we are all going down, let’s go down together.” 

A female doctor with the International Medical Corps examines a woman patient at a mobile health clinic in Pakistan. Photo credit: DFID / CC BY 2.0.

The highlights? 

In this episode, we chat to this trained social worker and dog lover about:

  • Why health – planetary and human – needs to be at the heart of climate solutions
  • How to find strength from doing this together, instead of acting alone 
  • Why ‘business as usual’ means at the end of the century there will be 70 million additional deaths because of heat alone 

In this conversation, hosted by TEDxLondon’s Maryam Pasha and advocate and activist Ben Hurst at TED Countdown in Edinburgh 2021, Shweta centres health as the missing piece of the climate puzzle, encourages us put equity and justice at the heart of our daily actions and shares how her four dogs help her to find balance.

Until next time – stay curious!

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