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🔬 "A Climate Lens for Healthcare"

Columbia Energy Exchange

Photo by Diana Polekhina / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Bill Loveless
Guest: Dr. Renee Salas | Harvard Global Health Institute
Category: 🔬 Research | Climate & Health

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[4:34] “ In [one of my] cases, [the patient] came in for an asthma attack. But yet there's so many items that we consider secondary diagnoses […] that make it harder for us to either prevent or manage that primary diagnosis. And climate change is actually a missing diagnosis in this patient. […] Climate change is driving pollen levels to be 50% longer, but 8% higher concentration according to a recent study.

[5:08] “I often think about when I see patients, that I'm standing on a river, pulling them out one at a time, only to see many more behind them. And so it's so important to walk upstream to figure out what it is that’s causing patients to fall into the river in the first place. And I realized when we walk upstream, we find the burning of fossil fuels is driving air pollution, especially inequitable exposure to air pollution, and also driving climate change. So then we see that connection on why those pollen levels matter, and why climate change matters to my patient. […] But when I make that diagnosis of climate change, I realize it needs a different toolbox.”

[6:10] “In many ways, it's like putting a BandAid on a bullet wound. But the importance of recognizing climate change as a diagnosis is that we can actually begin to develop what needs to be done, which shows why upstream action is so important in order to address the health impacts that we see in our hospitals.”

[6:43] “We're very good at diagnosing these downstream impacts. […] But then once we address these other issues, then we start to think about interventions, like […] air filtration systems and […] how to weatherize homes so that way patients can have at least one environment where the air is not worsening their underlying lung conditions. And then we also think about policy related to the types of energy we use and climate change policy. Once we start getting into these public health interventions and these type of policy related issues, that's an area where we have not been as well trained in medicine.

[8:25] “From my vantage point, we are the face of climate change, because climate change is here and now and it's already harming our health. And I would argue everyone's health is impacted to some degree. […] Heat is becoming more intense, it's lasting longer and it's happening more frequently. And heat has significant implications for health, especially for people who have underlying medical conditions. […] But then we move along the spectrum and there's poor air quality. So thinking about wildfire smoke [...] or this ground level ozone, which is driven higher by heat. Then we think about how it impacts our food and water. […] Crops are less nutritious because of climate change, which is especially important for people on the nutritional margin. […] And then we also think about extreme weather events, not only the direct trauma, but the disruption to healthcare systems and to the longer term disruptions and mental health impacts. And then there's the social implications of being displaced from your home. […] All of that's to say that there is enormous evidence right now that climate change harms health. We need more information and evidence to understand that in order to guide our response forward.

[11:36] “I view climate action as a prescription for improved health and equity. So climate change not only creates new health inequities, but worsens existing ones. Oftentimes, I think about climate change as a threat multiplier.”

[14:24] “We do not currently ensure that clinicians have the tools they need to operate in a 21st century environment. And that involves a spectrum of things. First off, it's adding a climate lens to medical education to make sure that students and trainees can understand how climate change is really impacting everything it is that they're learning. […] And then for clinicians who are already working and practicing, it's making sure that they understand how climate change is evolving within their area. […] The third thing […] is also recognizing that the healthcare system itself is disrupted because of climate change.”

[29:29] “We are at the cusp, I think, of that exponential understanding. […] The COVID 19 pandemic has shown us how underprepared we are in so many ways, but it's also provided us an opportunity in this accelerated experience to see what the implications are for longer term problems like climate change. […] And I am enormously optimistic because we have everything we need to act […] and implement […] healthy energy sources if we're gonna frame this from a health standpoint. And so we have the tools we need, we just need the will.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 32 min | 🗓️ 04/05/2022
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