Science, Now + Beyond

The U.S. health care system is a top greenhouse gas emitter

It's time we start taking responsibility for the negative effects of climate change.

A recent study has shown that the health care system in the United States is a huge contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming and pollution. In fact, if the U.S. health care system were its own country, it would rank thirteenth in the world in greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and water vapor, absorb infrared radiation (IR) and warm the climate. We need *some* in the air to keep Earth warm, but because we are increasingly putting more and more in the air, we have problems. Like global warming and pollution.

How does the health care system cause this?

After food service facilities, health facilities use the most energy, particularly in ventilation, sterilization and fuels in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and other facets of the system, like chemical gases.

Even in regards to non-greenhouse gas emissions, the health care system is the leading cause of acidification and smog, which cause respiratory problems in humans and many environmental problems.

This is not to say that the health care system is evil. We obviously benefit very much from the services and resources health care in the United States has to offer. But there are ways to reduce the system’s active pollution. 

Clinicians can be a huge help in reducing the chemical waste and conserving medical resources. This is not only so we can help people outside of hospitals stay safe, but patients and employees inside of the hospitals as well. This can benefit everyone.

As much as we would like to think it is, the planet is not invincible. So its time facilities stop taking advantage of it by increasing its carbon footprint and contributing to the negative effects of climate change.