Health care in the lens of climate change

Health care sustainability is on the global backburner.

This week, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report with new findings showing that the climate crisis has reached new levels of catastrophe.

Extreme heatwaves, drought, wildfire activity, etc. are all expected to continue and worsen in the coming years without climate action. Urgency is at an all-time high.

Where does health care fit into this picture?

The below graphic encompasses 1290 stories related to the IPCC report and climate change over the last week. Each story is represented by a dot - or node - and is plotted on a graph based upon the number of times the story was republished in traditional media (x-axis) and social media engagement received (y-axis).

The nodes that are highlighted are those that in some way discuss hospitals or health care; a few other key words were tagged such as recycling and plastic pollution that also show up if they were in the same stories.

What does this graphic reveal?

1) Health care in the lens of climate change is not prioritized by traditional news media. You can see that all health care related stories are plotted on the left side of the graph, which is exponentially scaled: most health care stories got between 1-4 republishings, while a number of stories in the week got 20-plus.

2) Social media has a similar story; you can see once again health care sits comfortably in the bottom half of an exponential scale in terms of social engagement with these stories.

3) The stories that are highlighted have more to do with the impacts of severe weather on hospital capacity and less to do with health care's role in the climate crisis as a contributor. The market for stories related to health care carbon emissions, medical waste output, plastics recycling, etc. is practically non-existent. The current focus is on how increased heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, etc. will strain the health care system in years to come.

What does this mean?

Ultimately, this analysis supports our previous arguments and the need for our Code Green newsletter: health care sustainability is an under-addressed topic in news media, though its importance - from removing toxic chemical compounds from medical products to greener initiatives in terms of plastic waste and carbon output - remains incessant.

Work to address these issues is being taken by individuals and organizations around the world - but that work needs to be better publicized, discussed, and prioritized in the health care sector.

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