Climate Change Action in Healthcare

Last month the New England Journal of Medicine published an article regarding climate change and human health.  It expands on a 2014 report issued by the World Health Organization, predicting that rising global changes would, through a variety of maladies, kill an additional 250,000 people each year by 2030.  The WHO report did not discuss deaths attributed to climate change related refugees, violence, or war, as outlined in a report by the Pentagon last week.

While frightening in and of itself, the NEJM article asserts the WHO numbers are “conservative”. Depletion of drinkable water, reduced food production, pollution, overfishing, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, and invasive species will amplify the effects on public health and health care systems:

“If no additional actions are taken, then over the coming decades, substantial increases in morbidity and mortality are expected in association with a range of health outcomes, including heat-related illnesses, illnesses caused by poor air quality, undernutrition from reduced food quality and security, and selected vectorborne diseases in some locations; at the same time, worker productivity is expected to decrease…”

It can be easy to insulate ourselves from this global issue—rising sea levels and the like won’t directly affect us in Nebraska.  Unfortunately that’s not true.  Changes outlined in a Unicameral-requested UNL report will affect our economy, environment, and people negatively—we will not be immune to any effects.

Health care has a special role in climate change. If the U.S. health care sector were its own country, it would account for 10% of US greenhouse gas emissions and would rank 7th in emissions production internationally; a major contributor of air pollution.  Additionally, many feel that physicians and other patient care professionals have been called to care for people, safeguard their health, and prevent future issues, so combatting climate change is part of their mission.

At UNMC & Nebraska Medicine our mission is “…to create a healthy future for all..”  That mission is why we have a sustainability master plan, why we work to reduce energy use (thereby reducing emissions), reduce waste, and promote active transportation; all part of our 2030 goals.  We are reducing our impact, helping to prevent illnesses, improve health, and be sustainable leaders in the health care field.

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