Updated: Apr 8
There are many people and organizations passionate about and working on environmental and climate change issues. The public now generally understands that climate change is largely a result of human activities since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and that humans can and should do more to stop it. There is also now the sad realization by the majority of the public that we are already experiencing devastating affects of climate change, including drought, floods, storms, and fires, and that things are likely to get worse before we can stem the impact.
Why then has there been so little progress in making things better? Maybe our efforts are fragmented, and can’t exert the needed pressure on our political leaders. So many organizations are pursuing their own work, often without coordination, collaboration, or sharing knowledge and resources.
Maybe part of the reason for a failure of public demand for action is that for many those storms, floods, and other disasters are still somebody else’s problem, far away.
What is not far away, but which depends upon every part of the world, is the air we breathe and the water we use to sustain ourselves and our food supply. Air and water don’t obey town, state, or federal boundaries. It’s that air and water which bring, right now, Climate Change into the lives of everyone, everywhere, not just where there has just been a natural catastrophe.
Climate Change and environmental degradation is hurting our health, and that of our families and neighbors, right now. To improve the health of our communities we need to organize, learn, teach, speak-out, offer solutions, apply pressure.
The Mid-Atlantic Alliance on Climate and Health is a new group that came out of discussions between Tonyehn Verkitus and Dr. Pouné Saberi of PSR Pennsylvania, Dr. Elizabeth Cerceo of Cooper Health System/Rowan Medical School, and myself. We saw a need to have health professionals and organizations, and community groups, to work together on Climate and Health issues, on a regional basis. Not just to talk, but to make a difference. We saw that many different groups had the same interest, but they didn’t know what other groups were doing, nor seemed interested in helping. There are resources being committed, but no one group has enough to leverage their impact. Community groups want to highlight that people’s health is being hurt due to poor air and water quality, but don’t know the details or how to get that message across.
The Alliance now includes PSR Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware ACPs, the Medical Society of Delaware, the Delaware Public Health Association, and the Delaware chapters of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians. We are in the process of adding partner, non-health care, community groups.
Our mission statement calls for us to put health and environmental justice front and center in the work to stop climate change, to be a source of education for the health care and lay communities, to work across the region, to form coalitions, and to take a stand on public and private policy on climate-related issues that impact human and environmental health.
Two initial work areas for us are air quality and health, and, the carbon footprint of health systems and medical practices. Most of our region, from Philadelphia into Delaware, receives a D or F from the American Lung Association on Ozone pollution. Particulate levels rate a little better, but are based on standards which are now thought to be too lenient. Both ozone and particulates contribute to respiratory and cardiovascular problems and are particularly dangerous for children, older people, and urban residents. Particulates are implicated in pregnancy complications, diabetes, and dementia.
The health care systems in this country account for about 10% of our carbon footprint. Yet there are few medical practices or hospitals that pay any attention to their use of energy or plastics, or to the air and water quality in their communities.
We look forward to the continued leadership of PSR Pennsylvania, to getting our message out, to finding more willing partners for our work, and to making a difference in the health of our region.
Alan Greenglass, M.D., is Past President of PSR national and a supporter of PSR Pennsylvania.