University of Wisconsin-Madison's Jonathan Patz doesn’t focus on looming risks to the planet when he talks about climate change. Patz talks instead about the tremendous health benefits of policies to curb it.
“A policy to mitigate greenhouse gases offers enormous public health benefits,” said Patz, a professor of population health sciences and director of UW-Madison’s Global Health Institute.
From cleaner air, healthier food crops and safer water supplies to transportation systems that demand active commuters, the health benefits of burning less fossil fuels are numerous and varied, he said.
Patz will lead a session on energy and health at a World Health Organization side conference to the Paris Climate Change Conference, or COP21, that begins next week in Paris.
Patz has worked with WHO to prepare profiles for countries across the globe on the health effects of climate change and the benefits of mitigating greenhouse gases. Those profiles and other information about the health impacts of energy policy may be key in influencing delegates from the nearly 200 countries expected to be represented at the talks, he said.
“I see this as a golden opportunity to move to a clean energy economy and improve everyone’s health,” Patz said.
The talks seek a global, legally binding treaty on reduction of carbon emissions to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2020.
Patz will be among those participating in a live video conference from Paris at 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 3 in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St.
Other panelists providing their impressions on the deliberations and unfolding agreement will be:
• Sumudu Atapattu, UW-Madison law professor and director of the UW-Madison Law School Research Centers;
• Clay Nesler, vice president for global energy and sustainability at Johnson Controls, the Wisconsin-based maker of energy efficiency and power storage systems;
• Nathan Schulfer, assistant director of professional programs at the Nelson Institute; and
• Jeff Thompson, a UW-Madison alumnus and CEO emeritus of La Crosse-based Gundersen Health System, which provides all of its own power through renewable sources.
Paul Robbins, director of the UW-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies will moderate.
Patz is optimistic about the conference producing a treaty.
“Awareness is very high that climate change is an urgent issue we need to address,” he said. “There is a lot of political will out there to get to cleaner energy in this century.”
Significantly, the United States and China, neither of which was party to the Kyoto Protocol, have put forward target reductions, he said.
Even if gridlock emerges on the international level, there has been substantial progress on the local level, through initiatives like the C40 Cities, by which the world’s largest cities have committed to addressing climate change.
“There is urgency, political will, and, I’m hoping, a vision of this being an opportunity rather than a difficult thing to do,” Patz said.