Opinion: Medical community can help advance climate action

In the face of the current administration’s inaction on climate change, medical professionals can take steps to protect people from the health harms caused by increasing levels of carbon pollution, say two experts from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a July 24, 2019 Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, Gina McCarthy and Aaron Bernstein—director and co-director, respectively, of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE)—described how rising carbon pollution has fueled heat waves, unprecedented rainstorms, wildfires, and hurricanes. The air pollution itself is known to cause ailments ranging from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to stroke to cancer, and the climate-driven disasters have led to health issues such as bouts of asthma, heart attacks, and kidney failure, and have strained hospitals.

Health professionals can help in a number of ways, McCarthy and Bernstein wrote. For example, research could help shed light on how to keep critical medical supply chains intact during climate disruptions. Doctors can also work to ensure the safety of their patients who are most vulnerable during heat waves or other extreme weather. And members of the medical community can push for policy change.

“We can demand that proposed climate policies come with a credible accounting of their health effects,” the authors wrote. “We can prioritize research evaluating the health effects of carbon-reduction strategies. We can discuss climate action in ways that make it personal, telling stories about the people we see in our clinics, hospital beds, and emergency departments whose health has been compromised by climate change, in an effort to educate and influence the media, decision makers, and parents.”

Read the NEJM Perspective piece: Combating EPA Rollbacks — Health Care’s Response to a Retreat on Climate