A climate solution: Just what the doctor ordered
By CCL’s Health Action Team and Business Climate Leaders
The global pandemic of 2020 has shown a spotlight on the courage, perseverance, integrity, and resilience of health professionals. As we in CCL anticipate the possibility of meaningful climate legislation in the 117th Congress, the persuasive collective voice of these heroes cannot be underestimated.
Our doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, counselors, and therapists are trusted messengers, and their voices resonate across the political spectrum. Who can argue with a first-hand account of an inner city practitioner who has treated a young asthmatic person gasping for air polluted by our idling cars, or the ICU nurse who cares for the elderly person of color who is more likely to die from COVID because the patient lives and works in a community on the frontlines of fossil fuel pollution? Who can argue with the school nurse who treats the young athlete suffering from heat stroke, or the doctor who is forced to evacuate his emergency room as an uncontrolled wildfire rages nearby? These are just a few examples of the stories unfolding in clinics, hospitals, and doctor’s offices on a daily basis. And these are the stories that resonate to our members of Congress regardless of party affiliation.
The pandemic is an immediate public health crisis. And yet, the climate crisis is still considered the biggest public health threat of the 21st century. Thankfully, there is good news. Much of what we do to address climate change is good for human health. This is true whether it be individual actions like walking or biking to work and eating less meat, or more systemic ways to address the crisis.
A recent study from the Columbia Center for Energy Policy projects that if a climate solution like the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act were implemented not only would greenhouse gas emissions be reduced by 36-38%, but other harmful air pollutants, such as nitrous oxide, sulfoxides, and mercury would be reduced between 75 and 95% in just 10 short years. In addition, in a recent testimony to Congress, Dr. Drew Shindell estimates that “policies which reduce emissions sufficient for global temperature rise to stay less than 2℃ would prevent roughly 4.5 million premature deaths, about 3.5 million hospitalizations and emergency room visits, and approximately 300 million lost workdays in the U.S. over the next 50 years.” His testimony goes on to state “on average, this amounts to over $700 billion per year in benefits to the U.S. from improved health and labor alone, far more than the cost of the energy transition.”
But what is the best way to engage these health care providers, especially as the pandemic continues to rage out of control? With care and sensitivity, recognizing that for those on the frontlines of treating COVID patients, it is probably not the time to engage. For others, their workload may have actually decreased as elective procedures are delayed and patients are reluctant to come in for routine evaluation.
Fortunately, the Health Action Team in partnership with the Business Climate Leaders have developed tools that make it simple for us to gently, and sensitively, approach health professionals we know personally, and those who may be our own providers. The effort centers around the Health Professional’s Climate Declaration in support of carbon fee and dividend principles. It takes only minutes to sign, but each additional signature helps to raise the collective healthcare voice to our Members of Congress.
In a few short months, we have collected over 1000 signatures. With your help, we can double that number before our spring lobby days. Imagine, if each CCL’er sent one of these two sample emails to a handful of health professionals she/he knows personally. The number of signatures on the declaration would grow quickly. Alternatively, you could simply print this one-page (front and back) informational sheet, add your contact information, and give it to your practitioner at your next appointment. Many practitioners will be too busy to engage in a long discussion about the climate crisis during your appointment, but many will circle back to it at the end of the day.
These are the beginning steps. Starting the conversation around the simple act of signing the Health Professional’s Climate Declaration may provide the initial contact from which an occasional unsuspected climate advocate may emerge, possibly a champion that begins to educate and advocate within one’s hospital system to gain support, or possibly a champion willing to join you in a meeting with your Member of Congress. The possibilities are exciting to consider and may ultimately even result in gaining support from a state medical or nursing society, or even a hospital system. Just in case, there is a companion Hospital and Healthcare Organization Declaration for such organizations to sign.
To learn more about possible strategies to gain traction with healthcare organizations consider reviewing this video, visiting the Health Industry Outreach Resource Page on Community, or possibly joining the Health Action Team “hospital outreach office hours” which are held the third Monday of the month at 8:30 pm EST / 5:30 pm PT.
Health is the human face of the climate crisis. Please help us gain support from healthcare providers across the country. It just might be what brings the human face of the climate crisis front and center to our Members of Congress.