Blog provided by Jeff Thompson, MD, CEO emeritus at Gundersen Health System
As thousands of leaders ready for the Global Climate Action Summit this September, we know that all we need to address climate change is courage, creativity and discipline. The moral imperative is clear. The data is voluminous. The short and long-term economics work. A healthy, functioning planet is in everyone’s interest.
We need to act not just as physicians but as members of a sector that has its own, not insignificant, carbon footprint that can be managed down in line with international agreements with benefits for public health and the sector’s bottom line.
We are not short on data convincing us that the climate is changing rapidly and the human impact is immense. Here is a nice, clear reference from NASA and the U.S. government. The data for the human causal effect is sound:
- Heat waves are killing people across the globe
- Climate population displacement has lead to innumerable deaths and suffering (from the University at Hamburg)
- Insect-borne diseases are methodically expanding:
- World Health Organization projections show more than 200,000 people will die from environmental factors by 2050
For any healthcare organization or government pledged to serve the well-being of the population, the data, the health effects, and the social and economic impact should be a strong enough moral imperative to act.
It will take courage to admit we are a big part of the problem, just like the energy or transportation or agricultural sectors. Healthcare is a major part of all economies (18% of the GDP in the U.S.) and a major polluter. We are large energy users and the carbon footprint of healthcare drugs and equipment are just as massive.
But if we have the courage to face these facts, all it takes is discipline to follow the lead of many others who have made great progress in lowering their environmental impact, staying competitive, and serving their communities.
From large commitments from very large organizations like Kaiser Permanente to get to 100% carbon offset in the next decade. Or Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin, that in eight years dropped its greenhouse gas emissions by 95% while saving money and improving the local economy. Or organizations of all sizes across the globe that are making great progress on energy, waste, food and materials.
We have many models in a wide range of settings to show progress can be made consistent with an economically-viable plan. Again, it may take some courage to think differently about how you invest, (for guidance, see the Health Anchor Network) or how you make better purchases (see the Greenhealth Exchange).
And you certainly don’t have to do it alone. There are large organizations like Health Care Without Harm that has guidance on improvement, regardless of where you are on this journey, and upcoming large conferences like CleanMed Europe that can help guide and inspire the work
The real courage is to admit that we are not only part of the problem, but to also realize solutions are within our grasp to play our part in helping nations meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. We must combine this with the discipline to lead a more environmentally-sound, economically-healthy and broadly-equitable response to an ever-changing more hostile climate.
LET’S ACT NOW.
Jeff Thompson, MD, is CEO emeritus at Gundersen Health System. Based in La Crosse, Wis., Gundersen was the first known health system in the United States to offset 100% of its fossil fuel use in 2014 with locally-produced energy and saves $3.7 million each year sustainability initiatives. More at gundersenenvision.org.