Earth Day organizers have pledged, as part of the Clinton Global Initiative, to use the day to motivate “A Billion Acts of Green” around the planet. For this Earth Day–April 22nd–the designated theme is “Mobilize the Earth.”
Why should physicians play a role in joining this commitment? Health benefits abound that are linked to engagement with the Earth’s natural environment. So do the health risks posed to this environment today by human development.
The good news is, there are some simple ways the 690,000 doctors in the US can take part in the Earth Day celebration to increase environmental awareness of patients and staff alike. Below, I list six Green Acts you–yes, you–can take today.
1. Come out against fracking
Fracking is a controversial method of drilling for oil and natural gas. It involves injecting into the ground deisel products that include toxic chemicals such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene.
According to the Atlantic, “low levels of exposure to those chemicals can trigger acute effects like headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness, while higher levels of exposure can cause cancer.”
People can be exposed by ingesting chemicals that have spilled and entered drinking water sources, or that were injected directly into underground sources of drinking water by frackers. This method shortsightedly prioritizes profits for oil company stakeholders over our present and future health. That's effed-up, don’t ya think?
2. Buy green and run your practice green
Dr. Joel Kreisberg is the founder of the Teleosis Institute, an organization dedicated to education on greening America’s health-care system. He designed a three-phase program to help doctors who want to not just “do no harm” but also wish to “do more good” when it comes to environmental impact.
Kreisberg suggests practitioners start by taking responsibility for “greening” their surroundings. He says this could include anything: “from recycling paper in the office (pollution prevention), to replacing regular light bulbs with compact fluorescents, (energy conservation), to installing low-flow aerators on showerheads (water conservation).”
You can also lessen your impact by using recycled products in your office in cases where they’re both a) safe and b) available.
3. Support sustainable farms, and buy sustainably-grown food
Buying sustainably grown vegetables and fruits is triply good:
It means that, in growing the crops that end up on your table, day laborers weren’t exposed to pesticide that can cause health problems ranging from birth defects to cancer.
It means that those pesticides won’t be leaching into the groundwater, either, where they could pose risk to people and ecosystems downstream.
And it means you’re getting the health benefits of sustainable crops, which according to food expert Michael Pollan tend to taste better and have more vitamins, minerals, nutrients and flavonoids than conventionally-grown crops.
4. Promote voting to enact laws to combat climate change
Warming can lead to more asthma and respiratory illnesses, exacerbation of chronic conditions, and spread of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever and Lyme disease.
In 2011 the AMA spoke out after finishing a study on the health issues of climate change. They noted that while climate change is
…hardly a physician-only concern… doctors may find themselves on the front lines in dealing with its serious and immediate problems. Patients are sicker or developing new conditions as a result of changes in the weather. Greater awareness and understanding of the situation, from a medical perspective, is a proper priority.
5. Promote contraception and family planning to slow depletion of natural resources
Mainstream international organizations such as the United Nations Fund for Women note that family planning and a stabilized population would help sustain the planet. They point out that “increasing demand for water is directly related to population growth” and that “lack of access to water is already putting pressure on a third of the world’s population.”
As such, contraceptives can reduce human suffering and illness that can result from overtaxed natural resources. In addition to being effective, contraception makes financial sense as “one of the most cost-effective ways to preserve the environment.”
And as public health measure it moves women toward being empowered decisionmakers, promoting health. Finally, as the UNFPA slogan says it, beyond the environmental impact family planning makes for more welfare of children, “so that every pregnancy is wanted.”
6. Talk up the great outdoors!
People who have spent time in nature will want to protect it if they care about it. Plus, studies show that play outdoors can have positive health benefits ranging from better distance vision to reduced ADHD symptoms to reduced obesity.
The best part about this list? You can make a difference simply by posting on your practice website and sharing these messages on your professional Twitter, Facebook and Google+ feeds.
Have other suggestions for other “Acts of Green” that align with the physician’s role as the healers and health advisors of our society? Please share in the comments section below, or send me an email at email@example.com! Thanks for reading.
Thumbnail image by flickr user Steven Snodgrass