- The American College of Physicians is calling for global action to reduce greenhouse emissions, warning that climate change poses dire health consequences for individuals and the general public.
- Global warming could lead to food and water shortages, as well as higher rates of respiratory and heat-related illnesses and of vector-borne and waterborne diseases, a position paper published online Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine stated.
- Especially vulnerable from climate change effects are the elderly, sick, and poor.
The ACP says doctors can aid in the climate change fight by adopting sustainable practices that lower their carbon footprint and by supporting efforts to lessen the effects of climate change. They also are in a position to educate others, including lawmakers, about potential health issues if planet continues to warm up.
And as it turns out, come initiatives can pay off. Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI, "decreased water consumption by more than 12 million gallons from 2010 to 2013....[and] we recycle 3.4 million pounds of waster annually,” Kay Winokur, Beaumont's vice president of quality and professional services, told Healthcare Dive in late 2014. And that's only the tip of the iceberg: “For waste, we earn about $53,000 a year in recycling rebates and we avoid $80,000 in landfill costs annually,” she said, adding that plumbing improvements such as replacing inefficient sinks and toilets have also saved the facility $43,000 annually in water.
ACP President Wayne Riley said in a news release that action is needed now “because our climate is already changing and people are already being harmed.”
Only one industry, food, uses more energy than healthcare, Medscape reports, adding the Environmental Protection Agency estimates healthcare’s energy footprint could be reduced by 30% with more efficient practices and renewable energy sources.
A report by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth urges healthcare organizations to take steps to lower their impact, such as cutting transport vehicle emissions, subsidizing employees’ use of public transportation and disposing of waste locally.
With 18 international chapters, the ACP hopes the policies and analysis laid out in the position paper will guide physicians around the globe in advocating for health system changes that reduce climate change.