Climate change, the environment and our living habits have never been more relevant. But did you realise how relevant it is to your work in the Healthcare industry?
Monash University recently reported that “climate change and environmental degradation threaten to reverse 50 years of advances in human health.”
Think about it, a change in climate will (and has already) lead to extreme weather situations, rising sea levels, poorer air quality. These things will not only have a direct impact on humans, but will also affect access to food and water for many, and living conditions will decline in many places as a direct result from all of the above. The effects of climate change will inevitably have a massive impact on health––both physical and mental.
The World Health Organisation has also predicted that between 2030 and 2050, a quarter of a million extra people would die each year as a result of climate change––if nothing is done about it now. Heat exposure, diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition will be the major cause of all these extra deaths. That’s 250, 000 extra deaths. And, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, this is a conservative guess.
And the social effects will be incredible. The World Bank says if carbon emissions continue to escalate, more than 100 million people will experience extreme poverty by 2050. Not to mention those that will be forced from their homelands as “climate change refugees”.
The impact this will have on the healthcare industry is unimaginable. Couple that with the already growing ageing population and staffing ratios. Help!
The irony is, according to reports, the healthcare industry is one of the major contributors to these damaging emissions. Yep, we are creating our own disaster!
According to the Lancet Planetary Health report, the carbon footprint of the health care sectors in 2014-15 was 7% of Australia’s total. Hospitals and pharmaceuticals noted as the major contributors. The report proclaiming, “hospitals are highly energy-intensive, consume large amounts of resources, and produce a large amount of waste.”
The largest offender of healthcare carbon emissions is public hospitals, guilty of 34% of the overall emissions in Australia, almost double that of the second-largest offender, pharmaceuticals. The production and use of pharmaceuticals are responsible for 19% of the emissions, with private hospitals, almost half that again, accountable for 10% of the carbon emissions from the health care sector.
And the worst news is, that stacked up against the rest of the world, Australia is actually pretty crap. Both England and the US healthcare sectors reporting a lot smaller percentage of their carbon emissions are from the health sectors. In fact, compared to the construction industry, our health care sectors here in Australia spew out half the emissions they do. That is of the total construction of every single building, house, pipeline, dam, oil rig, road, and rail line in Australia. Really, that’s quite heavy.
So, what can we do?
The first thing we can do as individuals is to recognise the impacts of climate change. Increase awareness and recognise that the impact will continue unless something is done now. Reduce our own personal impact and advocate for change within our workplaces.
And for Healthcare providers…
The international non-governmental organisation (NGO), Healthcare Without Harm, has been set-up to manage these very issues globally. They’ve recently developed a guide for hospitals to reduce their climate impact. Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Agenda by Healthcare Without Harm address issues specifically relevant to the healthcare sector.
The guide is prolific with issues such as sustainability through strong leadership;; reducing waste and better management of waste; renewable energy; water conservation; alternative transport strategies (including encouraging staff and patients to walk or cycle to the hospital, or to use public transport); serving sustainably grown local foods; green building design, and more.
And closer to home, a team of clinicians and academics from Monash’s Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences and their Sustainable Development Institution recently received critical research funding to explore ways to best teach Australia’s future health workforce about environmental sustainability and its impacts.
Read more about their work here…Monash Sustainable Development Institution.
Hopefully, with the industry on the same page, some very effective changes can be made well before the damaging climate change takes effect!