Fearful about the climate crisis and furious about the failure to address it, millions of young people across the nation and around the globe went on strike last week to demand action. A United Nations report issued just this week warns that earth is on track for the warmest five-year period on record. To stop a global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees above Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and meet the 2015 Paris climate agreement goals, the report says countries must triple climate emissions cut targets.
Already, 71 U.S. counties have hit the 2-degree Celsius mark, according to news reports. As climate change intensifies, healthcare providers, especially physicians, have a professional responsibility to address its effects on human health.
The nation has seen the acceleration of respiratory, cardiovascular and vector-borne diseases and the growing mental health impacts of climate change. And we know that the healthcare industry is part of the problem: If you were to look at the U.S. health system as a country, it would rank as the 13th-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, right ahead of the United Kingdom.
With physicians' decisions accounting for 80 cents of every healthcare dollar spent, our choices—including prescribing, device use and the tests we order—can have a real impact on climate change.
To reduce our collective impact, we offer some steps physicians can take to mitigate climate change and its effects on human health.