The average scientist and clergyman may not, on the surface, seem to have a whole lot in common. It’s possible they have vastly different viewpoints based on their backgrounds. Similarly, a business executive and an environmentalist may approach the same problem with different tactics. Clearly, the lenses we use to see the world have as much to do with our personal history as they do our currently held perspectives. But what if these individuals, who represent broad sectors of society, were given a goal of working together? It seems the threats that climate change poses to human health now present us with this opportunity.
With our window to act growing smaller, we have no choice but to join forces. Thankfully, nearly all distinguishable sectors have already begun making progress on the climate front. Across the country, city and community leaders have been developing and implementing climate solutions. Climate change is also becoming a great equalizer of faiths, pulling various religious institutions together for a common cause. Likewise, many businesses have worked diligently over the past couple of decades to improve sustainability standards and please their environmentally concerned stakeholders. The health community is no exception. Because healthcare facilities use a tremendous amount of resources, some have seized the opportunity to make institutional changes and reduce their consumption. Just last month, Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest integrated health system, announced new and ambitious environmental goals for the year 2025 that include becoming carbon positive, buying only sustainably produced food, and sending zero waste to landfills. Now that’s climate progress if we’ve ever seen it.
How to String Many Good Fights Together
Unifying members of a particular sector is one thing - expecting disparate sectors to come together is another. To begin, we need to break down our silos. If you think about it, each sector is really just composed of individuals who have made a choice to identify themselves with a particular field. Doctors were once students who declared themselves on a medical track, CEOs once college kids who decided upon business school, and priests were once parishioners who chose to take to the altar. Essentially, most of us placed ourselves in a sector when it came to our professions, but many of us also have sector associations that are personal and interest-based, such as an affiliation with a church or a connection to local business. And how about those of us whose professions cross into other sectors? A nurse who works for a Catholic school, a business executive who is teaching courses at a university, you name it. The greatest potential for inter-sector movement lies in these individual overlaps. Here’s where personal responsibility comes into play.
“Who, me?,” you ask. Yes… you. As an individual who cares about health, you’ve likely been noticing the impacts that climate change has on the human population (whether or not you have been able to identify them as such is a different matter). From worsening allergies to increased incidences of asthma and vector-borne diseases such as Lyme, the warming climate is altering public health. Just last week, a major new study linked air pollution to increased mental illness in children, even at low levels of pollution. And because we all contribute carbon emissions to the atmosphere, we each have personal responsibility toward achieving the goal of reducing the risk of public harm.
Are you a doctor that subscribes to a particular religion? Begin to talk about climate’s impacts on your patients within your congregation, and raise your concern when it comes to potential new church initiatives. Are you a nurse who is a member of your child’s school parent-teacher-organization? Underscore the parallels between children’s health and climate change and encourage the school to take on the topic of climate change for student projects. It is more likely we can tear down these socially constructed walls if we chisel them away one brick at a time.
Polarization is a Problem – Coming Together is the Solution