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American College of Physicians Calls for Global Climate Action
The American College of Physicians calls for concerted global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a policy paper published April 19 in Annals of Internal Medicine, warning that climate change unchecked will have devastating consequences for public and individual health around the world.
"The American College of Physicians urges physicians to help combat climate change by advocating for effective climate change adaptation and mitigation policies, helping to advance a low-carbon health care sector, and by educating communities about potential health dangers posed by climate change," said ACP President Dr. Wayne J. Riley, M.D., MPH, MBA, MACP. "We need to take action now to protect the health of our community's most vulnerable members -- including our children, our seniors, people with chronic illnesses, and the poor -- because our climate is already changing and people are already being harmed."
The college is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician organization in the United States, with 143,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students among its members. Its paper cites higher rates of respiratory and heat-related illnesses, increased prevalence of diseases passed by insects, waterborne diseases, food and water insecurity and malnutrition, and behavioral health problems as potential health effects of climate change.
ACP urges the health care sector to implement environmentally sustainable and energy-efficient practices and to prepare for the impacts of climate change to ensure continued operations during periods of increased patient demand; according to the college, the health care sector is the second-highest sector in terms of energy use, after the food industry, and spends about $9 billion annually on energy costs. It says health care system mitigation focus areas include transportation, energy conservation/efficiency, alternative energy generation, green building design, waste disposal and management, reducing food waste, and water conservation.
"Office-based physicians and their staffs can also play a role by taking action to achieve energy and water efficiency, using renewable energy, expanding recycling programs, and using low-carbon or zero-carbon transportation," Riley said. "ACP has 18 international chapters that span the globe. This paper was written not only to support advocacy for changes by the U.S. government to mitigate climate change, but to provide our international chapters and internal medicine colleagues with policies and analysis that they can use to advocate with their own governments, colleagues, and the public, and for them to advocate for changes to reduce their own health systems impact."
The paper was developed by ACP's Health and Public Policy Committee.