green and sustainable business

Climate change and health

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It should be pretty obvious that climate change is bad for the health of the planet and, well, all of us. But when a major health care provider such as Kaiser Permanente publicly recognizes that climate change threatens its basic mission—delivering improved health—shouldn’t that go a long way to depoliticizing the topic and shutting the diehard climate deniers up?

One would think so, but logic, science and the facts don’t work that way anymore. As we’ve seen in the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act, the spread of lies, inaccuracies, fear-mongering and just plain stupidity about what the ACA means and will do coming from right-wing’s sore-loser opponents of the law continues unabated. (Message to the Republican Party: You lost! Get. Over. It.)

The same atmosphere of lies and denial has been around for years from the climate change deniers – basically they are the same group of wingnuts, from Mitt Witt on down, who want to impose their strained and hateful corporate-fed ideology on the rest of us. They believe that repeating a big lie often enough – for instance that the ACA is a “job killer” or that people will lose their health care coverage or that climate change is a nefarious hoax – will make it true. That’s their cynical strategy.

In the super-charged climate of an election year and the Supreme Court’s action last month, what Kaiser’s Environmental Stewardship Officer Kathy Gerwig told the Harvard Business Review’s Andrew Winston likely will get lost in all the irrelevant noise and illogic.

And that’s unfortunate because KP is a big player in its industry—an industry that accounts for 16 percent of U.S. GDP and 8 percent of national GHG emissions. KP’s revenues total about $44 billion and it runs hospitals, clinics and health plans, serving more than nine million members in nine states and Washington, D.C.

Winston, who blogs for HBR and who is the co-author of Green to Gold and the author of Green Recovery, advises companies on environmental strategy.

In his blog piece, he writes that KP is making increasing commitments to renewable energy to meet a commitment to reduce its GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2020. “KP is buying both carbon offsets and significant onsite energy — 11 megawatts of solar and 4 megawatts of fuel cell generation,” he says.

Winston was surprised by KP’s commitment to renewables rather than say, focusing on supply chain issues, efficiency and green building. So he asked Gerwig about that and instead of the typical “right thing to do” type of answer he received “one of the most straightforward statements about the role of climate change in public health and in corporate strategy.”

Gerwig told him, “There’s credible evidence of significant climate change that will impact our ability to provide quality health care.” She identified four categories of the health effects of climate change:

– Severe weather: because things like hurricanes, floods, wildfires and heat waves injure and kill people.

– Respiratory diseases: because air quality has deep and long-term effects on health.

– Infectious diseases: because as the planet warms, bugs like mosquitos can survive and thrive further north, spreading diseases to new areas. Ready for outbreaks of malaria, yellow fever and dengue in the southern U.S. and Mexico? According to the UN those areas will face those diseases by 2050.

– “What we don’t know:” because while the science is clear that climate change is a serious problem, how it ultimately will all play out remains unknown. “What we know so far about the repercussions of climate change isn’t good,” Gerwig says, “such as water shortages and increased wars over resources, and all the health issues that go along with those.”

As Winston said, “Integrating sustainability and climate change into the health care mission of the organization is the real story here, and it’s one that companies should emulate quickly.”

And that should apply to the health care approach of any organization, instead of wasting time debating whether climate change is real or why it’s wrong to provide everyone—rich or poor, employed, underemployed or jobless—access to affordable health care, because time is running out.

Image: The Anatomy of Obamacare by Third Way via Flickr CC


Written by William DiBenedetto

2 July, 2012 at 2:08 am

One Response

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  1. […] a comment » Continuing with my recent theme on health and climate change, Pfizer, the “world’s largest research-based […]

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