It has been quite a week. Southeast Asia – including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh – is having such extreme heat that it is decreasing crop yields by up to 15%. India ended its wheat exports for fear that it will not have enough to feed its own people. And of course – the heat itself has already killed hundreds.
Over the weekend, in the US from the Southwest to the Southern Plains, over 75 million people were placed under heat advisories, and new heat records we set in Denver, Phoenix, and 25 other communities. And it is only June.
The climate crisis is a health crisis.
“Heat’s victims often die alone, in their own homes. Apart from heatstroke, it can cause cardiovascular collapse and kidney failure. It damages our organs and cells, even our DNA. Its harms are multiplied in the very old and very young, and in people with high blood pressure, asthma, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.” (New York Times, “How Extreme Heat Kills, Sickens, Strains and Ages Us” June 6, 2022).
Health systems can lead on climate action. The path is not that complicated – though it will require effort. It is estimated that 80% of a health system’s emissions come from the supply chain. Let’s use our contracting to push our suppliers to eliminate their own emissions. Of the remaining 20%, one half comes from the emissions associated with the health system’s electricity use. In July Healthcare Climate ActionWorks will be publishing on how to shift to renewable energy easily, effectively, and in a way that reduces utility costs.
Finally there is the 10% of emissions that come from the health system’s HVAC (natural gas), transportation, waste, anesthesia gases and more. This will first require education on climate, from the board to the front line managers, and then the implementation of practices that drive out emissions. This is the work of the Healthcare Climate ActionWorks education and implementation workshops program.
It is an exciting time for climate action – there is so much opportunity for improvement, so many methods for doing so, and such clear signals that we need to get to work.
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