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Healthcare Needs to Lead the Fight Against Climate Change

Health & Wellness  (tags: Asthma, climate-change, CO2emissions, environment, global warming, green house gases, health conditions, medicine, world )

- 2138 days ago -
As people continue to learn more about climate change, they are beginning to realize that it fundamentally is a health issue that will affect everyone in the world.


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Kit B (276)
Friday September 6, 2013, 8:20 am
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

As people continue to learn more about climate change, they are beginning to realize that it fundamentally is a health issue that will affect everyone in the world.

How climate change is damaging to health depends on where people live. If they live in Beijing or Baton Rouge, climate change looks like air that's so thick and poisoned they can't go outside their homes. If they live in the Midwest of the United States, climate change looks like extreme weather that rages through communities and heat waves that destroy crops and cause heat exhaustion. If they live in New York City, climate change looks like a massive hurricane, which flooded streets, trapped people in their homes without power, and shut down hospitals.

For many communities living downwind from coal-power plants, processes that affect climate change are more local, and look like more childhood asthma, as well as an increase in respiratory diseases among the most vulnerable citizens. People are learning that climate change is already leading to the spread of mosquito- and other vector-borne infectious diseases like Dengue fever and malaria to places that have never seen these diseases before.

The world is learning that it is not possible to support the population when the planet is sick.

In this unfolding crisis, the healthcare sector occupies a unique position in society to admit its contribution to the problem, and to lead the fight against climate change.

First, healthcare is just as addicted to fossil fuels as any other industry, if not more so. Hospitals use twice as much energy per square foot as schools and offices, partly because of the intensity of the business, partly because of a lack of focus to be less wasteful. healthcare is a major polluter.

Given that healthcare is underpinned by an ethical imperative to "first, do no harm," it has a responsibility to reduce all of its pollution and lead our society toward renewable energy, energy efficient products, local and sustainable food systems, safer chemicals and other mitigation efforts that support healthier people in healthier communities.

Healthcare represents 18 percent of the entire economy and is growing. If people can harness the purchasing power of that critical sector and invest in "climate positive" energy sources, they can drive the entire economy toward a more sustainable future. This low carbon development path simultaneously will reduce the rising disease burden and reduce the globe's spiraling healthcare costs.

Second, society needs to become better prepared for climate-change impacts in communities. Hospitals and clinics need to be resilient and self-sufficient. They need to help everyone prepare for the coming storm, as well as administer to the sick and wounded during extreme weather events. They should be the last buildings standing in a hurricane, rather than some of the first to go down. If hospitals have reliable on-site power, they can continue to provide critical care to patients even if the power grid is down for days. The good news is that on-site power can make hospitals more energy efficient, can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and save the hospitals money. Toward this end, a global coalition for "Healthier Hospitals" is accelerating the adoption of sustainable and climate-friendly practices, and saving hospitals money in the process.

Third, healthcare professionals are some of the most trusted spokespeople in society. When our society became addicted to tobacco, nurses and doctors were the first to recognize the dangers; they banned cigarettes from hospitals and educated their patients about the dangers of tobacco.

In a global campaign to kick people's addictions to fossil fuels and toxic chemicals, doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers need to be powerful spokespeople for policies that understand the true cost of a fossil-fuel-based economy and support the transition to a renewable-energy and toxics-free future. There are five million healthcare workers in America. They can become climate champions for local climate solutions in their communities, as well as serve as critical spokespeople at the local, state, national and global levels for actions, laws and treaties to rein-in climate change.

In this next period of our collective history, society needs to redefine healthcare. It no longer can focus exclusively on treating chronic disease in individual patients within the walls of a clinic or hospital. healthcare needs to clean up its own system, and live its mission of addressing the environmental and social conditions that are making people sick in the first place.

Healthcare needs to lead the fight against climate change that is our best remedy to the global health emergency.

By: Gary Cohen, Healthcare Without Harm; and Jeffrey Thompson, Gundersen Health System | Live Science|

Gary Cohen is co-founder and president of Healthcare Without Harm and Jeffrey Thompson 
is chief executive officer and chairman of the board for the Gundersen Health System. This piece is adapted from an article for the Skoll World Forum published in Partnership with Forbes. The authors contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

*This article was adapted from Healthcare Needs to Lead the Fight Against Climate Change on the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, a premier international platform for accelerating entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world's most pressing social issues.The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.

Arielle S (313)
Friday September 6, 2013, 12:02 pm
Certain things we all need to survive - clean water, good air at the top of the list. No doubt in my mind that we could reduce health care costs a lot if we were eating better, getting more rest, breathing better air and drinking cleaner water - but when we do need a hospital, we shouldn't have to worry about flesh-eating bacteria or the building getting blown away. It's kind of chicken and egg thing, isn't it? One doing well would help the other do well....

Patricia H. (440)
Friday September 6, 2013, 12:13 pm

Alice C (1797)
Friday September 6, 2013, 3:51 pm
Yes, It is a health issue ~ Thanks for this post Kit ~ Have a lovely weekend !

marie T (163)
Friday September 6, 2013, 4:54 pm

Sheryl G (359)
Friday September 6, 2013, 5:34 pm
Thank you Kit for placing this on here. This is another aspect to the climate issue that people fail to see along with the rising waters, increased storms, interruption in the growing seasons. Everything affect health in one way or another and this certainly needs to be taken into account.

I think for the citizens of the US to even have health care available to them has been a fight that has kept them pretty busy, but this is certainly another angle onto the issue.

Tamara Hayes (185)
Friday September 6, 2013, 7:16 pm
Sheryl, I couldn't agree more. This is an entirely new perspective, I think, for the vast majority of the populace. But it makes so much sense. I am certainly glad that I read this. I would like to see more of these kinds of articles. I will definitely be sharing this one because I really think people need to understand the whole picture, not just the catastrophic weather, but the whole enchilada. Thanks Kit.

Laurie H (818)
Friday September 6, 2013, 8:45 pm
You have all hit this one out of the ballpark!!!! Much appreciate this perspective & article Kit!! Everyone on this planet needs to open their eyes to these facts---they're real, they're here & they must be dealt with. Our health has to take center stage & climate change must be a huge part, to be considered. "Healthcare Must Lead The Fight Against Climate Change."~~

Mary R (280)
Friday September 6, 2013, 9:48 pm

Peta Clarke (30)
Saturday September 7, 2013, 12:41 am
Noted very interesting. It is a pity some Government Leaders don't think the same.

Mari 's (1356)
Saturday September 7, 2013, 7:37 am
YES!!! Now.... Literally...

We are all connected;
To each other, biologically
To the earth, chemically
To the rest of the universe atomically

Mari 's (1356)
Saturday September 7, 2013, 7:48 am
Literally... 'We Are All Connected' To Gaia To Everything, Literally.

Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife, are in fact plans to protect man. -Stewart Udall

"Every generation thinks it has the answers, and every generation is humbled by nature." - Phillip Lubin

"The destiny of humans cannot be separated from the destiny of earth."
- Thomas Berry, historian

It is not enough to understand the natural world. The point is to defend and preserve it. - Edward Abbey

"As the ancient mythmakers knew. We're children equally of the earth and the sky" ~ Carl Sagan

All life is related, And it enables us to construct with confidence. The complex tree that represents the history of life - David Attenborough

"The first law of ecology is that everything is related to everything else."
- Barry Commoner, US biologist/environmentalis

I know that the molecules in my body are traceable To phenomena in the cosmos. That makes me want to grab people in the street And say, have you heard this?? - DeGrasse Tyson

The cosmos is also within us, We're made of star stuff.
We are a way for the cosmos to know itself. - Carl Sagan

It is our collective and individual responsibility... to preserve and tend to the environment in which we all live. - Dalai Lama

If we are to go on living together on this earth, we must all be responsible for it. - Kofi Annan

Literally, really really.


Phillipa W (199)
Saturday September 7, 2013, 9:09 am
thankyou so much for posting this. Just as so many unhealthy practises are major pollutors, there's nothing overly environmentally-friendly about medical care. And as this article so succinctly pointed out, it really is a nasty catch-22 cycle - the worse things get for the environment, the sicker people become and the more threats to our health we face, and the more medical care we need. The 2 are intricately linked.

. (0)
Saturday September 7, 2013, 9:46 am
Right on the money. Since we are nothing more than disposable resources the Elites don't care. Use them; dispose of them; replace them. There's too many of them anyway.

Kit B (276)
Saturday September 7, 2013, 9:58 am

I think it may be time for people to read again. "The Silent Spring" Rachel Carson, this is not a new problem just one that is often over looked and ignored.

Barbara K (62)
Saturday September 7, 2013, 10:22 am
It is unbelievable that there are people out there so brainwashed that they think there is no climate change when all they need to do is look around. Climate change is obviously a danger to our health, besides the welfare of our wildlife and sea life; and all life on this planet.

David C (75)
Saturday September 7, 2013, 2:59 pm
TOTALLY fact, I created a teaching session on the topic which I try to sneak into discussions I give to family medicine residents in our training program in amazes me how many of my compassionate, supportive, caring, future thinking colleagues either are in denial or not motivated to work enough to do the things like living smaller, etc..........

Theodore Shayne (56)
Saturday September 7, 2013, 4:49 pm

Sheila D (194)
Saturday September 7, 2013, 5:17 pm
Thank you so much for this article - never thought much about it but the relationship between the medical profession during and after major climate changes, makes so much sense. Feels like I should say Duh to myself.

Several months ago I made a suggestion to my medical clinic...four floors of waiting and exam rooms. Every waiting room has huge flourescent lights in the ceiling and also end tables with lamps on each...lamps that are turned on whether or not they're wanted. My allergy nurses are used to me going around and turning them off in that room while I wait - allergy shots minthly and waiting half hr before can go home. The lamps All have incandescent bulbs...I suggested if they really can't turn the lamps off then they should al least put energy savers in. The next month I found one bulb had been changed...still putting energy wasters in other lamps.
Then they got a flatscreen TV for kids to watch DVDs while waiting. They have music thru the ceilling speakers, the TV going all the time, even when no kids there...of course, we pay for their waste.

Think it's time for another suggestion, ot three. Going to print a few copies of this article to send with the suggestion - and give one to each of my doctors...make for interesting exam room conversations.

Past Member (0)
Sunday September 8, 2013, 6:38 am
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