The health consequences of climate change, and the health co-benefits of addressing the climate crisis, may be the most powerful ways to frame the issue to get the attention of the public and policymakers, former Vice President Al Gore declared at a recent conference on climate and health. On the issue of climate change, the public trusts health professionals above all other voices. This makes it imperative that health professionals actually understand the health consequences we are facing due to climate change.
Medical Advocates for Healthy Air (MAHA) has been crisscrossing North Carolina to deliver this message to a variety of health professionals. In the past three months, MAHA has presented to residents in preventive health at UNC-Chapel Hill, a noon conference at Wake Forest Baptist Health, school nurses at a continuing education conference in Fayetteville, practicing professionals at a grand rounds presentation at Mountain AHEC, osteopaths at a symposium held at Campbell University in Buies Creek, and public health students and professionals at the Minority Health Conference at UNC Chapel Hill. Whew!
Health professionals are concerned when they learn about how climate change is exacerbating respiratory and cardiovascular disease, threatening mental health, and causing disruptions in health service delivery. Our message to these professionals is that climate change is real, it’s affecting our health right now, and the most effective solutions are to transition our energy generation to clean, renewable sources and develop electrified mass transit systems.
Health professionals can talk to their patients about ways to simultaneously reduce their carbon footprint and improve their health by measures such as using active transport and increasing the ratio of plant-based foods in their diets. They also can talk with their colleagues, practice managers and institutional administrators about improving energy efficiency, investing in renewable energy, and implementing programs that allow for cleaner transportation options, for example, signing up with the GoSmart program in the Triangle, at their practices. Most importantly, they can raise their voices, both individually and in MAHA’s actions, to guide our policymakers in decisions that are healthiest for our people and our planet.