Actions to Mitigate Climate Change
There are many opportunities for clinicians to use their expert knowledge and professional influence to slow climate change and protect their patients’ health. Examples of recommended clinical, institutional, policy, and personal actions are described below. See the Further Engagement section for resources for getting involved.
Interactions with Patients
Many behaviors that promote health also mitigate climate change. It is likely that clinicians already provide advice that helps patients reduce their GHG emissions. For instance, encouraging patients to walk or bike (rather than drive) and replace some of the meat and processed food in their diet with vegetables not only promotes a healthier lifestyle but also mitigates climate change.2
Consider prominently placing informational materials related to climate change and health in waiting rooms. Resources include the Center for Climate Change & Health’s Climate and Health posters and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s fact sheet on reducing one’s carbon footprint.
Another clinician behavior that promotes health, which may also mitigate GHG emissions, is the reduction of use of unnecessary tests and treatments such as those recommended by the Choosing Wisely initiative. Clinicians can read a prior Rx for Prevention article to learn more about Choosing Wisely.
Clinicians can also advocate for climate action within their affiliated hospitals, clinics, or professional associations. The American Medical Association provides short- and long-term steps clinicians can take to improve the sustainability of their practice. For hospitals, the American Hospital Association has a free Sustainability Roadmap, which includes instruction on how to improve sustainability in hospital operations in relation to energy use, procurement of supplies, and other recommendations. Examples of steps clinicians can support within their institutions to decrease GHG emissions are described below.
Promoting Sustainable Transportation
- Propose commuter programs and transportation assistance programs for staff and patients that incentivize the use of vanpool programs or mass transit, such as discounts, rebates, vouchers, and shuttles to nearby transit stops.
- Work with the facilities/operations department to include:
- Facilities that support active transportation, like lockers, showers, and bike parking.
- The addition of electric vehicle (EV) parking and charging stations.
Reducing Energy Use
- Work with the facilities/operations department to:
- Install renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, like solar panels or energy-efficient lighting.
- Implement energy efficiency campaigns, such as those that encourage using stairs instead of elevators or turning off unused lights.
- Adopt green procurement policies, including preferences for local supplies and local food in cafeterias.
- Install cool and green roofs and landscape with shade trees, and other vegetation to reduce the urban heat island effect.
- Encourage professional associations to host climate change and health-related educational opportunities (e.g., conferences, workshops, articles) to inform health care providers and administrators more specifically about how they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Request that the human resources training and development department include information on the health impacts of climate change in employee orientation and training programs.
- Propose that the facilities/operations department adopt landfill waste reduction strategies, such as instituting composting in cafeterias, reducing bottled water use, and recycling paper and other waste.
To support these and other institutional changes, clinicians can encourage their affiliated organizations to join an initiative that is working to reduce the health care sector’s impact on climate change.
Framing climate change in the context of health has been shown to be the most effective way to elicit support for climate policies and programs—even more than environmental or national security frames.3 Health care providers can use their expert knowledge, respected professional stature, and a health lens to advocate for scientifically-informed legislative action on climate change. Examples of policy activities are noted below.
- Describe the probable public health impacts of climate change adaptation and mitigation bills and support measures that benefit both climate mitigation and health, such as active transportation funding and infrastructure. Clinicians can stay up-to-date on proposed legislation in the California State Legislature through the Southern California Association of Governments’ Legislative Tracking Report and the Health Officer Association of California’s Bill Report, which are updated regularly.
- Promote policies that address climate change and promote health equity, such as policies that improve public transit accessibility or increase green space in communities lacking these resources, at local urban planning agency public meetings.4
- Advocate for programs and policies that make personal mitigation actions more accessible to people with low incomes, for example, supporting acceptance of SNAP EBT (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Electronic Benefits Transfer) at farmers’ markets.
- Join an organization that promotes health care sector action on climate change.
Clinicians can learn how to leverage their medical expertise to positively impact policies that promote the health of patients and communities by viewing a webinar from Kyle Ragins, MD, MBA of Doctors for America, which was cosponsored by the LA County Department of Public Health.
As individuals, health care providers can reduce their own contributions to climate change through simple actions that modify their daily habits at home and at work. Some examples of personal actions you can consider are to:
- Buy more locally-grown food, such as from farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture programs, and the local food section of grocery stores.
- Decrease water usage by taking a shower in place of a bath or adding water-efficient fixtures for both outdoor and indoor use.
- Use CFL (compact fluorescent light) or LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs in the home and office, which are more energy-efficient than regular light bulbs.5
See the LA County Department of Public Health’s 10 Things You Can Do to Reduce Climate Change fact sheet for additional ways to decrease personal contributions to climate change.