Why the healthcare industry must take the lead on climate change


The effects of climate change threaten decades of healthcare progress, and health leaders have a responsibility to help reduce energy consumption and frame the crisis as a health issue instead of a scientific or political one, according to a report published by the Lancet/UCL Commission on Health and Climate Change.

Climate change that leads to droughts, flooding and heatwaves pose numerous direct risks to population health. Health leaders, the report states, have a long history of confronting powerful interests to address public health threats such as tobacco and HIV/AIDS, and must take a similar stand on climate change to help end societal "addiction" to fossil fuels. Those who are confused or skeptical about climate change from a scientific perspective are far more likely to understand the urgency in the context of a healthcare crisis.

Instead of trying to scare people with the threat of an impending catastrophe if climate change is not addressed, the report recommends leaders instead focus on the positive health aspects of improvement, according to Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute of Global Health and co-chair of the commission.

"We are getting fatter, we're getting heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, respiratory ill-health, depression, anxiety and virtually all of things we want to do to protect us against climate change will improve our health, whether it's active transport--walking, cycling--eating healthier sustainable local diets or cutting air pollution," Costello told the Guardian. "All of that will have a huge health dividend, health benefits and save a lot of money."

Many providers and health leaders in the United States are already taking action on the issue. Last year, the White House issued guidelines for hospitals to address the effects of climate change, with recommendations including the development of contingency plans for electrical or water supply shortages and locating emergency departments away from areas vulnerable to flooding. Similarly, many hospitals have taken steps to prepare for the effects of climate change, such as redesigning facilities, reducing energy usage and reforming the waste-disposal process.

To learn more:
- read the Guardian article