Healthcare system gas emissions cost 98,000 lives each year, House committee says

The healthcare system's climate practices are costing high sums of money — and are taking years off lives — according to a Sept. 15 report from the House of Representatives' Ways and Means Committee. 

In March, the committee sent requests for information to hospitals and health systems to understand how climate events have affected the sector and what steps they are taking to address those effects. Sixty-three providers responded, and their answers were used to craft the five-part report, Health Care and the Climate Crisis: Preparing America's Health Care Infrastructure."

The report addressed healthcare's relationship with the climate and identified steps for a more climate-conscious future. 

The climate crisis' effect on the healthcare industry, by the numbers: 

  • An estimated 98,000 deaths can be attributed to the healthcare industry's greenhouse gas emissions each year. 
  • Air pollution and the climate crisis cost the health system an estimated $820 billion each year. 
  • Health sector greenhouse gas emissions rose 6 percent between 2010 and 2018. 
  • Healthcare systems' emissions have resulted in the loss of 388,000 disability-adjusted life-years. 
  • Between 2000 and 2017, there were 114 hospital evacuations related to climate catastrophes.

The healthcare industry's contribution to the climate crisis: 

  • Healthcare systems are responsible for an estimated 10 percent of national greenhouse gas emissions.  
  • Twelve percent of acid rain and 10 percent of smog formation can be attributed to the healthcare industry.
  • If the global health sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. 

Changes the industry is making: 

  • More than 74 percent of respondents to the House committee's request have dedicated resources to the climate crisis. Those who did not cite a lack of capital funds and personnel, the COVID-19 pandemic and competing priorities as reasons why. 
  • Over 49 percent of respondents currently track their carbon footprint. 
  • Respondents are making operational changes like recycling and hosting virtual meetings, switching to LED lighting, using renewable energy and adjusting transportation measures to better meet climate targets. 
  • Some respondents that invest in decreasing their footprint see financial benefit: For example, Kaiser Permanente reported saving $19.6 million since 2013 by improving its energy efficiency and $2.8 million annually by reducing water usage by 15.3 percent. 

Read the full report here

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