The health threats of climate change—from asthma from decreased air quality to altered patterns of infectious disease—are well-documented. The issue is prompting typically advocacy-shy physicians—who are seeing the impact of climate change among their own patients grow to alarming rates—to mobilize.

The galvanizing of physician groups concerned about the climate’s impact on human health was illustrated in the recent court case, Juliana v. United States, in which 21 young people under the age of 20 sued the federal government to block its continued support for national reliance on fossil fuels. The suit cites harm endured by younger generations, who “will continue to suffer as they age—harms different from those of prior generations.”

The case’s claim was the subject of an amicus, or friend of the court, brief originated by a team at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Law School. In February, it was circulated to physician groups and public health experts by Massachusetts General Hospital infectious disease specialist Regina LaRocque, MD, MPH. Her inbox was soon flooded with responses from physicians eager to endorse the scientific evidence behind the plaintiffs’ claims.

Advocacy is a touchy topic for some physicians, wary it could compromise their private roles as healers. Professional groups can be especially wary of controversy—and when they do move, says Dr. LaRocque, they do not move quickly. But the amicus on Juliana v. United States broke this precedent. All told, over a dozen professional organizations and 72 department chairs, physicians, nurses, and public health experts agreed to endorse the brief, which argues that “prompt reductions” in greenhouse gas emissions could alleviate some of climate change’s deleterious effects. “We had to turn people away,” Dr. LaRocque adds.

As the debate on climate change continues, physicians are expected to explore a range of advocacy options, including an inside-out approach—change from within the health care industry, which accounts for nearly 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions—and direct advocacy with legislators to help shape climate- and public health-friendly legislation.

Read more at Proto.

Topics: Academic Medical Centers, Health Professions, Global Impact

View all Topics View Archives