American College of Physicians warns of the potentially devastating impact of climate change on global public health.
Climate change poses a clear and imminent threat to global health, according to the American College of Physicians (ACP). In a policy paper published April 19, 2016 in Annals of Internal Medicine, the ACP warned that unless widespread action is taken to lower greenhouse gas emissions, public and individual health will suffer dire consequences.
“We need to take action now to protect the health of our community’s most vulnerable members — including our children, our seniors, people with chronic illnesses, and the poor — because our climate is already changing and people are already being harmed,” said ACP President Wayne J. Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, MACP in a news release.
In the paper, the ACP cautioned that climate change has the potential to raise the rates of respiratory and heat-related illnesses, increase the prevalence of insect-borne and water-borne diseases, contribute to food and water shortages, and cause malnutrition. Those most vulnerable to these dangerous effects are the elderly, the poor, and the infirm.
According to Riley, doctors can help to avert this global health crisis by “advocating for effective climate change adaptation and mitigation policies, helping to advance a low-carbon health care sector, and by educating communities about potential health dangers posed by climate change.”
As protectors of public health, physicians have a responsibility to educate themselves and their patients about the effects of climate change and to work towards reducing their own and others’ energy usage. To that end, the ACP recommended that courses on climate change be included in the curricula of medical schools and continuing medical education programs.
The healthcare sector ranks close to the top for energy use, second only to the food industry. It spends about $9 billion annually on energy costs. The ACP strongly urged the healthcare industry to take a good look at its energy consumption and to cut back where possible. Potential areas of improvement are transportation, energy efficiency, use of alternative energy, green building design, waste disposal and management, food waste reduction, and water conservation.
“This paper was written not only to support advocacy for changes by the U.S. government to mitigate climate change, but to provide our international chapters and internal medicine colleagues with policies and analysis that they can use to advocate with their own governments, colleagues, and the public, and for them to advocate for changes to reduce their own health systems impact,” said Riley.
Crowley, Ryan A. “Climate Change and Health: A Position Paper of the American College of Physicians.” Ann Intern Med. Published online 19 April 2016 doi:10.7326/M15-2766
News release: American College of Physicians