Doctors save lives every day, and now they’re trying to rescue the planet as well.
The United States healthcare sector produces an estimated 8.5% of the country’s planet-warming pollution, according to a report by National Public Radio. However, doctors around the country have begun sounding the alarm on the enormous carbon footprint of hospitals and are taking steps to reduce waste.
For example, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, ob-gyn Noe Woods and several of her colleagues founded Clinicians for Climate Action in 2022 so healthcare professionals could brainstorm ideas on making UPMC more sustainable.
In just one year, 500 doctors and nurses from 40 hospitals in the UPMC network joined the group, setting a goal of halving carbon pollution by 2030. The healthcare system even signed a White House pledge to make it official. In addition, C4CA convinced UPMC to launch the Center for Sustainability to track and reduce its pollution.
“Everyone now, because the world is on fire, everybody’s sort of looking at each other saying, OK, now we really do have to do something,” Woods said in an interview with NPR.
In addition, the organization has helped hospitals cut down on food waste and find sustainable alternatives to disposable items. For example, as NPR reported, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh started tracking blood oxygen levels with reusable fingertip sensors, helping to keep thousands of sensors out of landfills each month.
Other hospitals around the country have followed UPMC’s lead by reducing their energy consumption and switching to cleaner power sources. For instance, Gundersen Health System, a nonprofit healthcare network based in the Midwest, became energy independent in 2014, as Vox reported. According to the hospital system’s website, it produces more energy than it consumes, using a combination of solar, wind, heat energy from the Earth, and other sources.
“We’re getting down to a point where people need to act immediately to try to prevent the most catastrophic consequences. Physicians have a special responsibility to do something,” Caren Solomon, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told Vox. “And it’s only going to get tremendously worse unless we take action now.”
Luckily, many doctors are going above and beyond to protect Mother Earth, truly honoring the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.”
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