Dealing with health problems and health care as the climate changes

Climate change makes it harder for people to stay healthy and for medical providers to do their jobs, says Aaron Bernstein, co-director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Bernstein wrote about some of the ways that climate change impacts both health and health practitioners, and what can be done about it, in a December 1, 2019 column—the first in a new monthly series—in Coverage, a not-for-profit news service of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

He pointed out that carbon pollution has led to extreme heat events across the country, contributing to stillbirths, suicides, and asthma attacks, and to increased health risks for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, and kidney disease. Climate change also harms health by spreading infections, making food less nutritious, and polluting air and water, he wrote.

Health providers face their own set of climate change-related challenges, he added. For instance, more severe storms and heat waves can lead to power outages, which can interfere with care at hospitals and clinics. During Hurricane Maria, the U.S. supply of IV fluid bags was disrupted because the major supplier was located in Puerto Rico, which was devastated by the storm.

“We should combat carbon pollution because it protects our ability to deliver care to those who need it,” Bernstein wrote. “But we should also take climate action because it can improve everyone’s health—especially those whose health is at risk already—right away.”

In upcoming columns, Bernstein plans to explore “everything from medicine and heat to mental health and diet & share tips to help you stay healthy in a changing climate,” he wrote in a recent Twitter post.

Read the column: A doctor’s guide to health in a changing climate

Follow Aaron Bernstein on Twitter