Integrative Medicine and Climate Change

July 28, 2019 Joe Brady

Already climate change is becoming a major health problem around the world. In my own Chinese medicine clinic I have seen more respiratory diseases this last spring and early summer than ever before. The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change concluded that addressing climate change is the greatest public health opportunity of the 21st century, and failure to adequately address it could undo most of the progress in global health over the past century. 

 A majority of health care providers report they are already seeing health harms from climate change among their own patients – most commonly in the form of increased cardiorespiratory disease (related to air quality and heat), more severe and longer lasting allergy symptoms, and injuries attributed to extreme weather.  

Raising Awareness

Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time and health care professionals have a crucial part to play in raising awareness about these issues.  To facilitate the medical community’s awareness raising efforts, the Medical Society Consortium on Climate Change and Health (the Consortium) brings together associations representing approximately 500,000 clinical practitioners to carry three simple messages:

  • Climate change is harming Americans today and these harms will increase unless we act;
  • The way to slow or stop these harms is to decrease the use of fossil fuels and increase energy efficiency and use of clean energy sources; and
  • These changes in energy choices will improve the quality of our air and water and bring immediate health benefits.  

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Modern Medicine is a Major Contributor

Not only do health care providers have to deal with the consequences of climate change, health care itself is a major contributor. “If the U.S. health care system were a separate country, its $3.3 trillion GDP would give it the fifth-largest economy in the world. It is also the world’s seventh-largest producer of carbon dioxide, making it a major contributor to air pollution. The environment shapes our health system as well: recent catastrophes have shown how climate change can adversely affect the health care system’s ability to meet patients’ needs. These links suggest that health care organizations have both an opportunity and an obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and take action to prevent harm to patients that occurs during climate-related catastrophes.” To the Point, The Commonwealth Fund

Grand Rounds at Harvard Medical School’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine in July featured speakers on the connection between integrative medicine and preventive medicine and it’s effects upon the carbon footprint of the medical industrial complex.

Dr. Peter Wayne, Interim Director for the Osher Center was joined by Dr. Renee Salas, lead author on the 2018 Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change U.S. Brief, and Bill Ravanesi, Senior Director of the Green Building & Energy Program at Health Care Without Harm. Download Flier. The event was organized and moderated by Aterah Nusrat, Program Manager for the Osher Center.

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