Climate change is harming people and communities in the United States and around the world today. Wildfires, floods, and heatwaves are exacting heavy tolls, especially among the most vulnerable.
Climate change is also a direct threat to healthcare systems. Hurricane Maria, made stronger by the warming of the ocean due to climate change, for example destroyed medical facilities in Puerto Rico that led to nationwide shortages and rationing of basic medical supplies. [Click here for the latest Lancet Brief on these findings.]
Recognizing the threat that climate change poses to health and healthcare, the Harvard Global Health Institute is facilitating major efforts to decarbonize healthcare.
In a significant first step, Harvard Medical School and its affiliated hospitals and clinical institutes signed a commitment in December 2018 to extensively reduce their carbon emissions. [Click here to read the Press Release.]
Reducing the carbon footprint of these institutions addresses climate change, and directly benefits patient health: About 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change come from burning fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels also releases harmful air pollutants, such as particulate matter and ozone, which cause or worsen many diseases.
Under the leadership of Ashish K. Jha andAaron Bernstein at the Harvard Global Health Institute and Harvard Medical School Dean George Q. Daley, all Harvard affiliated hospitals and clinical institutes, representing more than 25 individual facilities, have come together to start reversing this trend -- and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The evidence is clear--burning less fossil fuel in power plants, cars and buses translates into less air pollution,” Daley said. “Less air pollution can help reduce risk for heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks and lung cancer and improve pregnancy outcomes.”
“As health care providers, we are enormously proud to speak with one voice as we seek to decarbonize for the health of our patients,” Daley added.
Recent research has indicated that the health care industry in the United States accounts for nearly 10 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from hospitals. Between 2006 and 2016, greenhouse gas emissions associated with health care have increased by 30 percent.
“This is an important and very concrete outcome of our work on climate change and health,” says Ashish Jha, HGHI’s faculty director. “Harvard University has made enormous gains in reducing our carbon footprint. Our hospitals are now doing the same.We are hoping that similar commitments will be made nationwide and to do so we must lead by example. The gravest impact of climate change will be on human health, so there is no better place to begin than our hospitals and clinics.”
Participating hospitals, groups and clinical institutes:
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Signatory: Kevin Tabb, CEO, and Pete Healy)
Partners Healthcare (Signatory: David Torchiana, CEO)
Boston Children’s Hospital (Signatory: Sandra Fenwick, CEO)
Cambridge Health Alliance (Signatory: Patrick Wardell, CEO)
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Signatory: Laurie Glimcher, CEO)
Joslin Diabetes Center (Signatory: Peter Amenta, CEO)
Harvard Medical School (Signatory: George Q. Daley, Dean)
Boston Globe Commentary: Climate change threatens public health and doctors’ ability to provide care
Healthcare Design Magazine: Resiliency: The New Design Imperative