Sustainability and Healthcare

With all of the changes taking place on campus, the emphasis on budgets, and the efforts to work together more, some have asked why we are spending time on sustainability.  Why do we care about being “green”?  Don’t we have other things to worry about or focus on (like patients?) rather than saving the rainforest?

Good question.

Answer: No. Well, yes.  Let me clarify.

We aren’t spending direct time/money saving the rainforests or endangered species of your choice.  We are spending time improving the environment we live in, because that’s directly related to our health.  Our mission is “to lead the world in transforming lives to create a healthy future for all individuals and communities… “; being sustainable meets that mission.  We are part of an ecosystem, and our health is directly related to that ecosystem.

We know that when air quality is poor, ER visits for asthma and lung ailments go up.  We know that when it’s exceedingly hot out, vulnerable populations are at risk of dying.  We know that temperature changes affect disease transmission, especially those carried by insects and parasites.  Two years ago most of us hadn’t heard of the ‘tropical’ Zika virus, and now it’s affecting children in our state.

While the connection between climate, the environment, and health has been known for a while (see box on side, for local information) last week that connection was amplified with a landmark article in the internationally respected scientific journal, The Lancet.

The Lancet’s article was a collaboration between 24 academic institutions and government organizations in a wide range of focus areas.  They call this the “greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century” and note that inaction, including a slow response will lead to “irreversible and unacceptable cost to human health.”

“Highlights” include but are not limited to:

  • Decrease in crop yields, and nutrient levels in those crops
  • Increase in acute kidney injury and cardiovascular events
  • Increased occurrence and mortality in both communicable (virus) and non-communicable (cancer) diseases
  • Decrease in outdoor labor capacity
  • Overall decrease in wellbeing; combination of health, stress, stability

Scary stuff.  But that is why Nebraska Medicine and UNMC work to be sustainable.  That is why we are leading the way, working to be Net Zero Emissions, Net Zero Waste, and reduce our water use by 54% all by 2030, while increasing active transportation.  Preventive or acute care, it’s all about health.

For more information, see these resources:

Dr. Khan’s presentation on Climate Change and Health

Dr. Donald Wilhite’s presentation on Climate Change Implications for Nebraska

UNL’s Report: Understanding and Assessing Climate Change, Implications for Nebraska

UNL’s Summary Report from Roundtable Discussions

Dr. Khan’s (and others) Roundtable video presentations

Additional Presentations from UNL’s roundtable discussions

Climate Change Implications for Nebraska Project Page

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