Health care can be divided into two categories, cures and prevention. Most would agree prevention makes the most sense, economically and medically—no medicine is as good as staying healthy. In the name of prevention, the World Health Organization (WHO) undertook an evaluation of the health impacts of climate mitigation strategies in the housing sector in 2010 and published the results in 2011 as an actionable report: “Health in the Green Economy ”.
The key message in this report supports the comprehensive goals of Vision 2020. In essence, Health in the Green Economy aligns climate goals with public health. While climate gains may be mostly reaped in the future, many of the health gains are immediate and quantifiable. These include savings to households, health systems, and macro-economies in terms of reduced illnesses, fewer medical visits, and sick days off work and school.
The report highlights include:
Non-communicable diseases: Cardiovascular disease, strokes, injuries, asthma, and other respiratory diseases can be prevented through low-energy and climate-friendly housing measures that:
- reduce exposure to extreme heat and cold;
- reduce exposure to mold and dampness;
- improve indoor air quality through better natural ventilation; and
- provide for safer, more energy-efficient home heating and appliances.
Communicable diseases: Transmission of airborne and waterborne infectious diseases and of certain vector-borne diseases can be reduced through low-energy and climate-friendly housing designs that:
- increase natural ventilation to lower risks of airborne infection transmission, including tuberculosis;
- limit vector and pest infestations through measures such as sealing of cracks and window screening; and
- improve access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation in planning and siting.
Mental health and sense of well-being: Many housing improvements can improve both. The report goes on to propose a number of win-win strategies that are inexpensive, available with existing technology and, unlike some of the contentious green house gas reduction goals, can be implemented immediately and internationally. They include improved residential ventilation strategies and the use of green, nontoxic construction materials—sound familiar?