Eckart von Hirschhausen – health expert: “Our earth is in the intensive care unit” – knowledge

“Our earth is in intensive care,” says the German doctor, entertainer and climate activist Eckart von Hirschhausen. She even has multiple organ failure – the worst thing you can have in intensive care.

But what only a few know so far: “The consequences have a direct effect on our health.” Will we all be patients soon?

Eckhart von Hirschhausen

Doctor and science journalist

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dr medical Eckart von Hirschhausen is one of the best-known doctors in Germany and, as an author and entertainer, combines medical content with humor and sustainable messages. He is committed to a medically and scientifically sound climate policy and is the founder of “Doctors for Future” and the “Healthy Earth – Healthy People” foundation.

SRF Knowledge: Mr. von Hirschhausen, you approach the topic in your work with the usual humor. What’s funny about the climate crisis?

Eckart von Hirschhausen: Nothing! Every year we break records in CO2 emissions and heat, we have flood disasters in the middle of Europe. The facts are there – we must finally reach everyone with them. Humor is a good tool for this.

Humor in the climate crisis is not about laughing at facts.

I like to say to the viewers of my program: “Imagine that for every kilo of meat there is now an obligation to add 20 liters of liquid manure at the checkout. And the saleswoman says: «You helped cause it. Do you want a lid on it or is that okay?” Then the audience laughs and understands: the meat has a price. Humor in the climate crisis isn’t about laughing at facts, it’s about making it clear: we’re all part of a pretty idiotic system.

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Humor helps to change perspective?

Exactly. It also helps to understand that there are cross-connections between the current crises: Zoonoses are suspected to be the cause of the pandemic. Infectious diseases caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses and transmitted mutually between animals and humans.

What does that have to do with global warming?

In past centuries, the spread of zoonotic diseases was rather slow. However, global warming is ensuring that more and more regions offer mosquitoes or ticks, which can transmit pathogens, a suitable habitat. Her sphere of influence is constantly expanding.

Above all, they draw attention to what the climate crisis is doing to our bodies – why?

Because the climate crisis is by far the greatest health hazard of the 21st century. It not only brings new infectious diseases, but also more allergies, mental illnesses such as “solastalgia” and and and.

Solastalgia – the sadness of what is gone forever

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“Algie” is the medical term for pain. You may be familiar with the term “neuralgia”, nerve pain. Or as part of the word “nost-algie”, the sickening homesickness. Part of this also resonates with solastalgia, sola comes from “solatium”, Latin for comfort.

In this neologism, which has so far only been used in English, the desolation of the climate-related loss of home is mixed with the world-weariness.

As with nostalgia, there is something else that comes with the discomfort of the present and the indefinite longing for a past, more ideal world: the awareness that this ideal world will no longer exist in the future, neither spatially nor temporally.

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Source: “Human, Earth”: Eckart von Hirschhausen, 2021, dtv-Verlag.

Heat alone is an enormous stressor for the body. When it’s hot, we become aggressive, cranky and unproductive. Old people in nursing homes often live there without cooling, shading or green roofs – they literally overheat. That heat is a medical emergency has still not really caught on in healthcare.

So would it help the climate if doctors and other health professionals got loud?

Absolutely! The most underestimated health problem is air pollution. Nine out of ten people worldwide breathe in dirty air. 8.8 million die from it every year. When I, as a doctor, explain to my asthma patient that there is a direct link between her illness and air pollution or invasive plant species that are growing faster as a result of the climate crisis, it makes an enormous difference.

A man with gray hair grins and a woman to the right also laughs for the camera.


Between talks and debates, Eckart von Hirschhausen took the time to talk to us at the “K3 Climate Congress” in Zurich.


You are a medic. What prescription would you give us and the earth?

We have a carbon footprint made up of food, consumption and housing. Anyone can work on that. But I think the handprint is much more important.

The handprint?

It shows what options for action I have. We can still decide how we want to live. In this respect, we should also see this crisis as an opportunity: Is it really a sacrifice if I eat less meat? Yes, it is a heart attack and stroke waiver. Rather, it is a gain in quality of life, peace, stability and food security for the whole world.

Gina Buhl conducted the interview.

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