Doctors must step up to the challenge of climate change

Jun 27, 2008

Doctors must lead by example on climate change, according to experts in this week's BMJ. Health professionals were powerful catalysts in changing society's view of smoking from a normal lifestyle choice to that of a harmful addiction, and they must do the same for climate change, writes Professor Mike Gill from the University of Surrey.

The NHS is the largest public sector contributor to climate change in the UK, responsible for generating over 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, about 3% of the UK total.

Despite the NHS recently committing to reducing carbon emissions by at least 60% by 2050, it is not enough, argues Gill, immediate and profound changes in behaviour are needed to avoid irreversible climate change.

He believes that a comparable health emergency occurred in the UK in the 1980s with the HIV epidemic. This, he points out, prompted significant action at all levels, including government awareness campaigns, national surveillance of the effects of behaviour, significant funding, and "the acceptance that this was a problem that demanded attention from health professionals".

A similar collective response on climate change is vital, says Gill, this must begin with health professionals showing patients and governments how serious they are about the challenge of climate change.

In a second personal view, Jenny Griffiths and colleagues from the Climate and Health Council and the Health and Sustainability Network, propose ten practical and inexpensive actions for doctors that could, they say, collectively reduce carbon emissions by up to 5 million tonnes a year—the equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of half a million people in the UK.

They suggest for example, advising patients on lower-carbon diets and walking and cycling instead of car travel; health professionals holding meetings by teleconference, videoconference or web-casting and attending fewer international conferences; doctors advocating locally, especially in primary care, to maximise home insulation and uptake of relevant grants; campaigning on an international level for stabilising the population by promoting literacy and female access to birth control; and putting climate change on the agenda of all meetings.

Doctors are still the professionals that the public trust the most and they must use this influence to change people's behaviour to benefit patients' health and reduce carbon emissions, they conclude.

Source: BMJ-British Medical Journal

Explore further: Court clears German safety body in breast implant scare

Related Stories

Australia hails 'tremendous' UN barrier reef decision

15 hours ago

Australia Thursday hailed a United Nations decision to keep the Great Barrier Reef off its in danger list as "tremendous", but activists warned more must be done to improve the marine park's health.

Should we all escape to the country during a heatwave?

8 hours ago

A University of Birmingham research project has highlighted the potential health impacts of heatwaves in urbanised areas. By modelling the 2003 heatwave the researchers were able to identify areas where city centres were ...

Recommended for you

Drug and device firms paid $6.5B to care providers

Jun 30, 2015

From research dollars to free lunches and junkets, drug and medical device companies paid doctors and leading hospitals nearly $6.5 billion last year, according to government data posted Tuesday.

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

thinking
5 / 5 (3) Jun 27, 2008
The Enviro-nuts.... want doctors to tell people to reduce carbon emissions?
JerryPark
5 / 5 (2) Jun 27, 2008
Let us hope these brave new doctors will take time off from their busy schedule of social propaganda to actually see and care for the occasional patient.
1bigschwantz
5 / 5 (1) Jun 27, 2008
Dont worry, the lawyers will just sue em if they're wrong.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.