Why doctors need to join the fight against climate change

Reversing climate change could be the greatest health accomplishment of the 21st century, the President of the World Medical Association, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, said today. And doctors needed to be fully engaged.

In an article in the US magazine ‘Fortune’ to coincide with the climate change summit in Poland, Dr. Eidelman writes that if doctors wanted to fully uphold the Declaration of Geneva’s creed that ‘the health and well-being of my patient will be my first consideration’, they needed to take an active role in defending their patients from the adverse effects of climate change.

Physicians were well suited to play this role. They often had close relationships with patients and their families and had an obligation not only to diagnose and treat the damage caused by climate change, but also to advise.

‘We need to help patients understand that they can help mitigate climate change’s effects by being more conscious in their use of transportation, living in environmentally efficient housing, and eating conscientiously—which means less meat, less wasting food, and using fewer single-use products and packaging.’

Dr. Eidelman says that doctors also had to look at their own practice. High tech modern medicine was also high in energy and material consumption and this had a price in energy consumption, single-use products and abundant packaging of medical products. The WMA supported physicians in investigating the environmental footprint of their practices with initiatives, such as ‘My Green Doctor’, a guide for doctors on implementing environmentally friendly practices.

‘Finally, medical doctors constitute a powerful constituency. Many of the WMA member associations provide pension funds and some medical communities are big investors. Some medical organizations have commonly decided to divest from high carbon dioxide-producing industries and to boost our environmentally responsible investing. Through this, doctors have sent a message to the market: We value our environment more than short-term returns on investments.’

Dr. Eidelman said that medical leaders must talk to politicians about climate change.

‘By talking about the suffering our patients endure and could continue to endure, we are adding a human dimension to the already dire economic predictions of climate models’.