Alberta Oil Sands. Canadian Photographer Edward Burtynsky.

“The fact that the number one predictor of whether we agree that climate is changing, humans are responsible and the impacts are increasingly serious and even dangerous, has nothing to do with how much we know about science or even how smart we are but simply where we fall on the political spectrum.” ~ Dr. Katharine Hayhoe (TEDWomen Dec 2018)

Last month, the UN released special report SR1.5 on global warming and the US government published the Fourth National Climate Assessment Vol II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptations in the United States. The Lancet’s independent, global monitoring system also issued in November The Lancet Countdown: tracking progress on health and climate change.

After reading the reports, I began to question how information on climate change is disseminated to the public and if medical education programs and physicians have a role and responsibility to address climate change. If so, what is the role and how is it best exercised in this political firestorm? What are the responsibilities that our family physicians have to be informed on the topic and to educate patients as to the effects of climate change on their health and the crucial services they need?

Interestingly, in The Climate Mitigation Gap: Education and Government Recommendations Miss the Most Effective Individual Actions (2017), Wynes and Nicholas found that “education and government documents do not focus on high-impact actions for reducing emissions, creating a mitigation gap between official recommendations and individuals willing to align their behaviour with climate targets.”

The four actions they found to have the biggest impact were:

  • Having one fewer child (which could reduce emissions by 58.7 tonnes of carbon per year, due to the absence of emissions that an extra person would generate over a lifetime).
  • Living car-free (reducing emissions by 2.4 tonnes per year).
  • Avoiding air travel (reducing emissions by 1.6 tonnes per transatlantic flight).
  • Eating a plant-based diet (reducing emissions by 0.8 tonnes per year compared to a diet that includes meat).

Climate change, filtered through the lens of a family physician, may be a topic that one of our UBC Residents would like to pursue as a Practice Improvement Process/Continuous Quality Improvement Project or Resident Scholar Project.

To help you get started, I’ve listed organizations, articles, and resources that caught my attention:

Physicians for Social Responsibility and Global Warming: Climate Change Emergency Medicine Response

A Practical Guide for Physicians and Health Care Workers to Reduce Their Carbon Footprint in Daily Clinical Work (2018) by Maximilian Andreas Storz, MD

Physicians’ Role in Addressing the Issue of Climate Change and Health during their Conversations with Patients (2016) by Alanya Den Boer

Doctors Urged to take Climate Leadership Role (2011) by Fiona Harvey

Emerging Roles of Health Care Providers to Mitigate Climate Change Impacts: A Perspective from East Harlem, New York (2014) by Perry Sheffield, Kathleen Durante, Elena Rahona, MS, Christina Zarcadoolas, PhD

Teaching About Climate Change in Medical Education: An Opportunity (2016) by Janie Maxwell and Grant Blashki

Physicians, Climate Change and Human Health (2008) by Lamk Al-Lamki, MD

For a look at how things break down in our neck of the woods, see Canada’s action on climate change, British Columbia’s Climate Planning & Action, Abbotsford City’s Climate Change Plan , and Mission’s Community and Energy Emission Plan (2012).

Warm regards,


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