The Case for Health Care to Transition Away from Fossil Fuels

HCWH Blog 
Gary Cohen
May 20, 2014

The health care sector is a massive consumer of energy. Its use of advanced medical technology and the 24/7 nature of hospitals make them the second most intensive user of energy in the economy. An average hospital uses twice as much energy per square foot as a typical office building. And because hospitals rely on the electrical grid just as much as we do, they are just as reliant on fossil fuels to power their facilities, as we are to power our schools and homes and office buildings.

So why should the health care sector bear any more responsibility to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and invest in clean energy and other low carbon innovations? Because our societal reliance on fossil fuels is making us sick and leading to an unprecedented global public health crisis. Our addiction to fossil fuels is the principal driver of climate change. We are learning that the climate crisis is intimately linked to a plethora of negative health outcomes. These include heat stress, food insecurity, increased asthma and respiratory diseases, the spread of mosquito borne diseases like Dengue Fever and malaria and the spread of water borne diseases like diarrhea during times of flooding. The World Health Organization has called climate change the greatest public health threat of the 21st century.

Our reliance on coal is of particular concern. Coal negatively impacts people's health throughout its lifecycle, from mining it to consuming it to emitting it in the atmosphere. Coal is directly linked to heart disease, asthma, low birth weight and increased risk of stroke. Coal is also the largest contributor to global climate change. So as a matter of global public health, we need to phase out our use of coal and transition to cleaner energy sources.

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