Earth: The Physical


Weight

Escalating fast
Diagnosis: The human population's rapid expansion is weighing Mama down. In fact, if you roughly translate population to pounds, you find that the relatively trim, 150-pound figure that Mother Earth sported in the 1980s could swell to an obese 300 pounds by 2050. It took hundreds of thousands of years for humans to number one billion; now it takes just a decade or two to add another billion people to the planet. At the moment, the population grows by about 200,000 bodies every day. That's like adding the head count of Reno every 24 hours. And just like fat around your midriff, a ballooning population compounds all the planet's health problems. The more people, the more land needed to grow crops, the more fish taken from the oceans for food, the more fossil fuels burned to power our vehicles and factories.

Prescription: Make it easier for women around the world to access birth control. According to the United Nations Population Fund, expanding contraceptive resources could prevent 23 million unplanned births and 22 million abortions each year. A $9 contribution to the UN group (unfpa.org) pays for two years of oral contraception for a woman who couldn't get it otherwise. Alternatively, a $100 donation to Pathfinder International (pathfind.org) trains one community health worker in India to provide family-planning services.

Cholesterol

Borderline high
Diagnosis: The glut of oil-fueled vehicles is clogging global arteries. There are 750 million vehicles operating today; by 2050, that number could rise to 2 billion. Most of that growth is in China and India, where rising standards of living are allowing many people to own cars for the first time. The good news: New vehicle technology—from efficient high-speed trains to high-mileage hybrid cars—can help shift the balance from bad to good.

Prescription: If you can, use a rideshare instead of owning wheels. One growing company benefiting from the green auto movement is Zipcar (zipcar.com), which operates in dozens of communities nationwide. You can reserve online, walk a few blocks to your car, and drive away. If you need your own ride, make fuel efficiency a priority. Two good choices: the tiny but well-designed Smart Fortwo (from $11,590, smartusa.com) and the Toyota Prius (from $21,100, toyota.com).

Blood Pressure

High
Diagnosis: The stress of the earth's compounded health problems is resulting in more planetary tantrums—in the form of superstorms. One study shows that the number of high-intensity hurricanes (category 4 and 5 monsters) has nearly doubled since the 1970s. UN scientists predict that as the world continues to warm, we likely will see more (and more violent) storms, heat waves, floods and droughts.

Prescription: Protect the wetlands, which help shield us and the planet from the worst environmental repercussions. In addition to removing toxins and pollutants from water, healthy wetlands act like enormous sponges to absorb excess water during storms. When they're destroyed, extreme weather is more likely to lead to dangerous flooding like what we saw after Hurricane Katrina. You can learn more at dozens of local events about your area's wetlands and how to protect them (epa.gov/owow/wetlands/awm).

Reflexes

Good
Diagnosis: Over her 4.54-billion-year history, Mother Earth has recovered just fine from ice ages, volcanic episodes, even the massive asteroid that wiped out more than 70 percent of the earth's species—including dinosaurs—65 million years ago. But her definition of "quick recovery" is a little different from ours. Since the late 1980s, for example, ozone-damaging chemicals have been cut by more than 95 percent; but scientists believe it will take at least 50 more years for the ozone layer to recover.

Prescription: Elect leaders who pledge to fight climate change. Look for candidates who support signing on to the Kyoto Protocol, the UN agreement that aims to reduce emissions to below 1990 levels by 2012; raising vehicle fuel-efficiency standards (even China's are higher than ours); and introducing a federal "cap-and-trade" system, which creates financial incentives for companies to reduce industrial emissions.

Physician's Signature:Women's Health

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