Climate change looks like this, not like this, in downtown Washington, DC

This is the reality of climate change in our cities. At one drug store:

And at another:

Allergy season started 3 weeks earlier than last year. The shelves are cleaned out. You can imagine that the consumers of these products are probably not as productive, happy, or with the same sense of wellness they usually have. To me, this is an image of suffering.

This is not the reality of climate change in our cities, from a display at Reagan National Airport, in Arlington, Virgina

The problem with the iceberg image is that it doesn’t connect people to the impact of climate change in their lives; research has shown that the polar bear / iceberg imagery is less effective in describing a problem that affects people. The drug store image connects climate change to our lives. Images and messages that focus on the impact of climate change to people are more effective, which is I why I wrote this post.

And, it’s a vicious circle. Health care in the United States accounts for 8 percent of our nation’s CO2 emissions. In the United Kingdom, health care accounts for 3 percent. Pharmaceuticals are accountable for 14 percent of those emissions in the US ( 21 percent in the UK ).

More allergies = more medications = more CO2 production = more allergies = more suffering.

More allergies also means more loss. In this great study by Ron Goetzel, PhD, et. al: “Health, Absence, Disability, and Presenteeism Cost Estimates of Certain Physical and Mental Health Conditions Affecting U.S. Employers“- the productivity loss of allergies has been estimated at 0.9 hours a day from an 8 hour work day, with a total cost of $271.04 per employee per year in direct and indirect costs (medical treatments and productivity). The annual cost of diabetes is $256.91 per employee per year. I’ll call these numbers “dramatic.” More allergies also means less physical activity, less resources for people to reach their everyday and ongoing life goals.

I’ve posted my own allergy journey on here previously (See: “Why Health2.0 is a great idea: The Case for Allergies”). I never had seasonal allergies until I moved to Washington, DC. I’ve become incredibly knowledgeable about how to manage mine, but I still move a little slower, take a little more time to get things done, spend a little more time indoors. I now understand why someone with pet allergies might have a cat or a dog. I call this time of the year, “the time that DC tries to reject me,” but I still <3 DC. Love knows no bounds I guess.

Someone might say, “this is good, promoting the health care economy through the production of these medications.” However, the goal of health care is not to put more resources into health care, it is to liberate the resources people have to achieve their life goals instead of paying for unnecessary treatments.

I’ve never been an environmental activist and I don’t see myself becoming one in the future. Probably more of a health activist. Climate change, like the other things I’m interested in, such as diversity, and patient access to information, is a health issue. Climate change, like the other things, is also a social determinant of health. Its impacts, including the ones above, disproportionately affect people across the social gradient.

Ted Eytan, MD