Opportunities for health system action on climate change 

The last decade has seen increased framing of the climate crisis as a health emergency, accompanied by more effort from health systems and health care workers to address this emergency as we see firsthand the health impacts of environmental issues on patients. 

We know the public is concerned about environmental challenges; however, we know less about people’s perceptions of the role of health systems in responding to the climate crisis. Yet, it is critical to understand these perceptions if we plan to work with patients to minimize the environmental impact of health care and create a climate resilient health system. Recently, Fraser Health used the online platform Health Chat to engage with our residents on climate change. Health Chat is a community panel consisting of Fraser Health residents aged 16 and older. The survey was sent out in January 2023 to 2249 residents (response rate was 27%) to investigate views on and responses to climate change.

The short survey included multiple choice and free-text questions on perspectives related to climate change. It explored mitigation and adaptation, and examined connections to health, community, and health system action. It is important to note that as Health Chat uses a nonrandom convenience sampling technique, some segments of the population are overrepresented; therefore, some results should be interpreted with caution.

The majority (81%) of 610 respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they were aware of the risks of climate change to their health or the health of their community. This may indicate that education efforts around climate and health are becoming more mainstream. Also, 36% agreed or strongly agreed that their own health or the health of their family had been adversely affected by climate change, which indicates that a significant portion recognized personal impacts. Many participants also commented they were worried about how climate change will impact their neighbors or the next generation. A significant number of respondents expressed concern about emerging issues, such as what to do about extreme cold or wildfire smoke.

There was strong support for Canadian health systems strengthening existing efforts to move toward low carbon/low waste care. Eighty-five percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that it was important for the health care system to reduce its carbon footprint and waste (only 5% disagreed). Similarly, health care leadership in communities is also expected; 82% agreed or strongly agreed that it was important for the health care system to help communities adapt to climate change.  

The health care system is full of people passionate about planetary health action both in and outside the workplace. Climate and health coalitions have created frameworks that can galvanize both health system mitigation and wider advocacy. Seventy-five percent of respondents supported broader health system engagement, agreeing it was important that the health system have a role in informing public policies that reduce the impacts of climate change. 

We need to continue raising people’s expectations and awareness that we are committed to making health systems part of emissions reduction efforts and sharing how they can be part of the solution. As we strengthen our efforts to address the greatest public health threat and opportunity we have arguably ever faced, we have an opportunity to build on existing support from the people we serve.
—Darryl Quantz
Planetary Health Lead, Fraser Health
—Amy Lubik
Climate Change Lead, Fraser Health
—Emily Newhouse, MD
Medical Health Officer, Fraser Health
—Sergio Pastrana
Business Analyst, Fraser Health

This post has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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