Climate Change & Health

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by Alan S. Peterson, MD

boy with smog mask

The heat accumulating in the earth (mostly in the oceans) because of manmade emissions into the atmosphere is roughly equal to the heat of 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet EVERY DAY.1

As a physician involved in environmental medicine for over 40 years, I certainly agree with the World Health Organization that climate change is the most significant health issue of this century. I also believe the Pope’s encyclical that climate change is the most urgent moral dilemma of our time.

So where does OTEC enter into this discussion? The answer is: EVERYWHERE! The United States Global Change and Research Program (USGCRP), a government program focused on researching the effects of climate change (among other things), has identified health outcomes associated with continuing use of fossil fuels of coal, natural gas, and oil. These outcomes detail the cardiopulmonary, heat illnesses, food, water, vector borne diseases, and mental health consequences, among others. You can read the USGCRP’s full report here.

OTEC is an amazing mitigator to all the negative health outcomes caused by rising CO2 levels (now over 400 ppm) and increasing global temperatures. It does this through a unique use of hydrothermal energy – the sun’s energy trapped by the warm surface waters of the ocean, renewed daily. It’s inexhaustible and also provides desperately needed clean water. Each year 3.6 million people die from contaminated drinking water in the world.2 OTEC can drastically reduce this number. Not only that, but OTEC reduces carbon emissions from fossil fuels by 80-90%, and provides Seawater Air Conditioning (SWAC) with predictable availability 24/7.

Determinants of health (to name a few) include personal as well as country conflicts, poverty, and environmental threats of climate change. Through utilization of OTEC, economic, social, and environmental benefits are all accrued. Can you see how all of these are interconnected with our individual health?

The world needs to produce at least 50% more food to feed 9 billion people by 2050 and 12.3 billion folks by 2100.3 Every increase in global temperature decreases crop production by 5-15%.4 When we can slow temperature increases through OTEC, we can help prevent what otherwise will be massive starvation. (Not only that, but the fresh water that can be produced as a byproduct of OTEC can be used for agriculture, fish-farming, and aquaculture.) This, in turn, helps prevent hordes of refugees from leaving their homelands, therefore decreasing civil strife and wars.

Developing countries are searching desperately for more renewable, predictable, sustainable energy to bolster their growing populations. If they were to use more fossil fuels as they grow, the predicted climate change apocalypse would certainly occur. OTEC in areas 20 degrees above and below the equator (where 3 billion now live) is “just what the doctor ordered”.

I could enter into further health benefits of OTEC such as electric grid stability, protection of fuel price stability, cold water for air conditioning, economic development in low income countries, mariculture (specialized branch of aquaculture involving marine organisms), decreasing storm intensity, sequestering of CO2 in oceans, among others – but time does not presently permit.

As a physician who desires the best livable world for his children and grandchildren, I feel we must call for a “sea change” (pun intended) in our thinking and behavior about climate change. OTEC is just that prescription.


  1. John Lyman in Nature, May 19,2010
  3. Gerland, P. et al. 2014: World population stabilization unlikely this century. Science Oct. 2014: Volume 346 no. 6206. Pp 234-237.
  4. National Research Council report, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia (2011).


Alan Peterson, MD
Dr. Alan Peterson Dr. Alan Peterson is an award-winning Lancaster, PA-based physician with a passion for promoting community and environmental health. In his career of more than 40 years, Dr. Peterson has consistently shown a commitment to medical education, patient care, and service to community. He served as Lancaster General Hospital’s Director of Community and Environmental Medicine and Associate Director of the Family Medicine Residency Program until his retirement in 2013. Dr. Peterson has brought and continues to bring his voice to the devastating effects of climate change on our planet, our health, and our society.




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