There was an irony to Aaron Bernstein’s getting stuck in traffic recently. The Boston Children’s Hospital physician was on his way to Allston to give a talk about the health benefits of going green.
“As a routine bicyclist, I rarely drive anywhere in Boston, and I was reminded on my drive here why. It took me an aggravating 45 minutes to get a mile and a half,” he (eventually) told the audience at the Harvard Ed Portal.
Bernstein, who studies how changes in transportation, diet, and energy can immediately benefit health, lectured on “The Health Benefits of Going Green: How Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions Can Benefit Health Today” as part of the Ed Portal’s Faculty Speaker Series.
“In the context of doing things that will reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, there may be no better argument than an appeal to our own individual health. We can be no healthier than the environments we live in and the food we eat,” said Bernstein, the co-director for the Center for Climate Health and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE) at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “But unfortunately you don’t have to look very far to find environments that are remarkably unhealthy.”
With the exception of smoking, poor diet and air pollution are the two leading drivers of disease across the world, according to Bernstein. Air pollution kills millions of people every year. Particulate matter — hazardous particles such as soot, smoke, and exhaust suspended in the air — are deadly, he said. In the U.S., particulate matter comes from burning fuels, especially fossil fuels, and in places like Boston much of it comes from burning gas and diesel.