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Toolkit: Climate Change and Health

Published: 10/3/2022

The American College of Physicians believes that physicians and the broader health care community should engage in environmentally sustainable practices that reduce carbon emissions, support efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, and educate others about the health risks posed by climate change.  By addressing climate change, we not only avert environmental catastrophe but also gain public health improvements such as cleaner air and better respiratory health from reduced dirty fuel use and improved cardiovascular health through more active transportation like walking and cycling.

ACTION:

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Physicians can play a unique role in educating their colleagues and communities about climate change and its health impacts and advocating for policies to address this problem. ACP members can use these resources for education and action related to climate change and sustainability.

Regional Facts - These brief U.S.-specific talking points provide guidance on how to talk about how climate change impacts health in each region of the United States and the co-benefits of taking action. 

Patient FACTS - This easy-to-understand patient education resource explains how climate change can affect health and gives examples of what patients can do to reduce their impact on the environment.

Greening the Health Care Sector Document Collection - The health care sector uses a massive amount of energy and is responsible for millions of tons of waste a year. These documents provide guidance on how physicians, their colleagues and staffs can take action to curb climate change and make their practices more environmentally sustainable.

Background

In 2016, the Annals of Internal Medicine published Climate Change and Health: A Position Paper of the American College of Physicians.  This was in response to a Board of Regents-approved resolution that called on the College to support efforts to address research, education and response to the medical consequences of climate change. The paper lays out the evidence of how our changing planet has impacted, is impacting and will continue to impact human health. Global warming has not only caused global average temperatures to increase, it has also caused sea levels to rise, land and sea ice to melt, and oceans to acidify. The changing climate has exacerbated drought and intensified extreme storms and other weather events. These climate impacts have consequences for human health in the form of increased risk of heat-related illness, respiratory disease, vector- and water-borne disease, food and water insecurity, and behavioral health problems.

The World Health Organization calls climate change “the single biggest threat facing humanity” and highlights that “health professionals worldwide are already responding to the health harms caused by this unfolding crisis.” Despite these challenges, physicians can play a substantial role in addressing climate change by taking action to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in their own practices, advocating for climate change adaptation and mitigation policies, educating themselves about climate change and how it affects public and individual health, and the potential health threats it may pose to their community.

Federal Activity

As the harmful effects of climate change have increased over the decades, both the Legislative and Executive branches of the federal government have increased efforts to address what has become a growing crisis. The Biden administration has declared its commitment to reducing the harmful effects of climate change by “mobilizing a whole-of-government effort to reduce climate pollution in every sector of the economy and increase resilience to climate impacts. The Biden administration will create good-paying, union jobs to build a modern and sustainable infrastructure, deliver an equitable clean energy future, and put the United States on a path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.”

Recent Action in Congress

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), H.R. 5376, was signed into law in August 2022.  To date, the funding and policies enacted through the IRA are the most comprehensive effort  designed to mitigate the causes and effects of climate change. The combined measures in the IRA are expected to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by about 40% below 2005 levels by 2030. ACP supported these provisions in the IRA through letters to Congress and public statements, and celebrates the steps taken to address climate change. The IRA’s environmental protection measures include:

  • Methane emission reduction: Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to climate change. The IRA includes the first charge for methane gas emissions imposed by the federal government. The methane emissions charge will begin in 2024 and applies to emissions over a certain threshold from production and processing facilities in the natural gas and petroleum industries.
  • Support for clean energy: The IRA allocates $9 billion for rebate programs and tax credits for consumers to make clean energy investments in their homes, including through electric appliances and solar energy, and for energy efficiency investments such as better home insulation. The IRA also includes significant manufacturing incentives to produce more clean technology, including tax credits to accelerate the production of solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries. These economic incentives will make clean energy much more accessible to the public and help build the infrastructure necessary to make widespread use of clean energy possible. Hospitals and other health care facilities may be able to access clean energy tax credits and other incentives to help reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and build resiliency.
  • Electric vehicle tax credits: The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the country. The IRA encourages the reduction of individual emissions through tax credits for clean vehicles.
    • Most new electric vehicles purchased before August 16, 2022 are eligible for up to $7,500 in tax credits. Preowned vehicles may quality for up to $4,000 in tax credits.
    • For vehicles purchased after August 16, 2022, final assembly must take place in The United States in order to qualify. The Department of Energy has compiled a list of model year 2022 and 2023 qualifying vehicles.
  • Agricultural conservation: The IRA allocates $19.5 billion for agricultural conservation including increased funding to the United States Department of Agriculture for forest management and mitigation-focused conservation activities, as well as funding to support renewable energy use in rural communities. Nearly $2 billion in funding for wildfire risk reduction activities is also available.
  • Environmental justice: The effects of climate change are felt particularly hard  by socially vulnerable communities. The IRA seeks to mitigate these inequities through investments in community-led projects to improve public health and increased infrastructure funding for safe and sustainable transportation systems.

For more information about ACP’s advocacy related to Climate Change, see “Where We Stand.”

State Activity

While recent federal action is promising, most states have set their own policy goals to address climate change and its health impacts, especially as environmental priorities have shifted across different presidential administrations and Congresses. 33 states and DC have adopted climate change action plans, and 24 states and DC have set targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.  30 states, DC, and three U.S. territories have Renewable Portfolio Standards for what percentage of renewable energy they aim to generate from renewable sources by a target date, and multiple states have set goals for eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.  A bipartisan group of state governors representing the majority of the U.S. population and economic activity formed the United States Climate Alliance to work at the state level to limit warming and meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accords.   

In addition to supporting state chapters with climate-related policy issues, ACP has advocated with federal regulators in support of state climate action.  In August 2022, ACP joined other health organizations in writing a letter to the EPA in support of granting waivers to approve California’s clean truck standards to regulate emissions from the heavy vehicle transportation sector.

References