Dear friends and colleagues,
As the year comes to a close, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on our work together and our commitment to our mission.
I believe 2017 will be remembered as the year climate change came home to Americans. The historic images of polar bears on melting ice caps have given way to images of families losing their homes, people fleeing for safety, and communities struggling to recover from financial devastation.
2017 has proven to be one of the hardest years yet. We experienced one of the worst hurricane seasons in history, displacing tens of thousands of families. We witnessed the crippling of Puerto Rico’s health care system when the electrical grid went down and even now after several months, millions of people are still without electricity. We watched thousands of people evacuate as devastating wildfires scorched the west coast.
All told, climate-related disasters this year will cost the U.S. economy more than $265 billion in damages — a figure that does not include the enormous public health impact and trauma that will continue to plague our communities for years to come.
Climate change has moved from something in the far-off distance to a reality that people are feeling in their daily lives.
New research estimates that 9 million people worldwide are killed by air pollution — three times as many people as AIDs, malaria, and TB combined.
For more than 20 years we have worked together to call attention to these linkages between the environment and our health, and the latest science published by the Lancet and others confirms our message: Health care needs to move upstream to address the environmental factors that are making people sick in the first place.
Yet while these environmental realities are sinking in, we have witnessed the U.S. government’s dismantling of environmental and health protections that we and colleagues have fought to put in place for more than two decades. This short-sighted climate denial has led the United States to withdraw from the Paris Climate Treaty and turn the United States into a pariah in the global community. At the moment we most need national leadership to address this collective threat, we have had to endure a pathetic and maddening capitulation to the very industry that is driving us toward an existential cliff.
To whom can we look to lead our country forward? In the midst of this unfolding drama, health care professionals are emerging as powerful and heroic figures.
Doctors and nurses worked around the clock to support people injured or whose lives were devastated by hurricanes and extreme storms. In Santa Rosa, more than 50 health care workers continued to show up for work even as their homes had burned to the ground. In every disaster, health care providers are taking heroic steps to address the collective trauma our communities are enduring.
This environmental health leadership we are witnessing is having far-reaching impacts on communities and countries far beyond our own:
- Leading hospital systems are making commitments to become carbon-neutral.
- Many are committing to support local and sustainable agriculture.
- Health systems are making commitments to become more aggressive in their environmentally preferable purchasing efforts.
- Recently, at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, Health Care Without Harm organized 137 health care organizations representing 10,100 hospitals from more than 30 countries to sign a call-to-action on climate change. The careful work our community has done over the last 20 years is starting to reap significant dividends.
These successes would not have happened if not for you. Thanks to the passion and hard work from countless individuals, we have made significant strides in bridging our impact on the environment and on our health. While one can reflect on the past year and find despair, I find myself inspired and motivated because of you.
In dark times, it is always better to light a candle than curse the darkness. It is always better to join in solidarity with other people who are on the same path toward justice and planetary healing. As this year comes to a close, I light a candle to all of you, whose commitment and passion is a gift to the world.
Best wishes and good health,
President and Founder
Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth