Where the Healthcare and Climate Change Debates Collide

Unless you have been living under a rock — which, in fairness, would probably have a very low-carbon footprint existence! — you’ve probably been inundated with news about healthcare this summer. One story, however, hasn’t made the front page; yet, it has a big impact on our future health as a state and a nation.

It takes a significant amount of energy to power our care!

Building a more energy-efficient healthcare sector could save millions of dollars, and thousands of lives. And with healthcare — a disproportionately energy-intensive market — making up nearly 20% of our economy, shrinking its carbon footprint can protect us all from the many health consequences of worsening climate change.

According to one calculation, every dollar a hospital in the United States saves on energy is equivalent to generating US $20 in new revenues. Any economist will tell you — that kind of return on investment is straight-up bonkers. From a short-term, basic business perspective, energy efficiency just makes sense for hospitals — which are humming, well-lit buildings chock full of energy zapping machinery that operate 24/7. Small changes, like implementing LED lighting, shifting to alternate energy sources, or better tracking usage data via the smart grid, can have an outsized difference in this sphere.

Good news is — hospital networks in Illinois are helping lead the way. Advocate Health Care, a member of the Health Care Climate Council, has reduced its energy consumption by at least 23% since 2008 — with a dollar savings of $23 million!

Let’s repeat that: $23 MILLION!!

That savings can be redirected back towards patient care. And as a result, Advocate cut their carbon footprint by enough energy to power 19,000 homes for a year. If you’re interested in learning more about where and how hospitals can cut their energy usage, check out the Health Care Climate Council’s awesome interactive infographic.

On a more existential level — reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to curb climate change is essential to ensuring our future health. A warming planet could fundamentally alter the public health problems we Illinoisans face. We’ll be highly prone to extreme heat waves and flooding. With lower air quality, asthma and other chronic health problems will become more acute. And with changing weather patterns come changes to our flora and fauna, bringing carriers of diseases we’ve never had to encounter before.

Here at home, BRACE (Building Resilience Against Climate Effects) at UIC Chicago is helping Illinoisans better prepare for the risks of climate change, from asthma to heat illness. Watch and share their video, mapping out why it’s so important to be prepared for the climate’s impact on our health, and how we can mitigate it.

Video: Climate Change and Health in Illinois

So in your next debate about healthcare at the family dinner table, don’t forget to throw in some new factoids about energy’s role — and how the little changes we can make in our own energy footprint can help keep us all happy and healthy.