Tackling climate and health disparities: Health care’s obligation and opportunity

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Systemic injustices create environmental and health disparities

Historical policies such as redlining and colonialism, along with ongoing political and economic marginalization, have left certain racial and ethnic communities with increased exposure to climate risk. Worse yet, the same systemic practices have left these communities with fewer resources and lower adaptive capacity to prepare for and respond to climate impacts.

A map of New York showing the historical redlined maps with areas highlighted as “best,” “still desirable,” “definitely declining” and “hazardous.” (Mapping Inequality, screenshot by HCWH)

Prioritizing the voices of those most affected

Increased climate exposure sits on top of other social determinants of health and widens existing health and economic disparities. Environmental justice describes these situations where multiple factors — including environmental and socioeconomic stressors rooted in historical and present-day injustices — act cumulatively to exacerbate persistent health disparities. Communities and organizations that acknowledge, feel the effects of, and assert solutions for addressing these cumulative factors are known as “environmental justice” communities and organizations.

The opportunity and urgent need before us

As Health Care Without Harm’s new U.S. climate and health program director, I see clear opportunities for the health care sector to address climate change, health, and equity in partnership with environmental justice communities. With the rapid acceleration of climate change and the worrisome compounding of inequities, it is more important now than ever to take action.

Climate Resilience for Health Care and Communities: Strategies and Case Studies provides a strategic framework for building truly climate-resilient health systems and communities, and explores how health care institutions can leverage investments to support equitable decarbonization and build community resilience, health, and wealth.

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Health Care Without Harm

Health Care Without Harm

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Health Care Without Harm seeks to transform health care worldwide so the sector reduces its environmental footprint and becomes a leader in the global movement.