This is an update of work previously done analyzing US health care’s contribution to carbon emissions (see: Just Read: Environmental Impacts of the U.S. Health Care System – (Carbon as a currency for health)?, as recent as 2018
- The contribution is 8.5 % of total US carbon emissions
- This is lower than the previous estimate of 9-10 % because that estimate has been revised downward given changes in electricity generation, however,
- This estimate is 6% higher than the previous estimate taking that revision into account
- The number is 553 Mt CO2e for 2018
- Pharmaceuticals and chemicals are the largest portion (20%) of Scope 3 emissions (emissions from the health care supply chain).
- 1693 kg (1.693 metric tons) CO2 equivalent per person
As noted in the paper, the biggest gains to be made in reducing emissions will come from reduction of fossil fuel use, regardless of the health care crises we are now seeing (and demand emission of carbon to treat those in need)
Visualizing carbon at a personal level
It’s difficult to envision 553 Mt of carbon (553 million tonnes) at a personal level, so I’ve done a calculation for myself:
The amount of emissions is smaller (in the tonnes rather than million tonnes), however the mitigation strategy is the same – reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
I’ve gone one step farther and analyzed my health care use (or lack thereof) as a physician without diabetes or metabolic syndrome, and calculated a 1.99 metric ton savings just from pharmaceuticals not used to treat these conditions. The 1.693 metric ton per person calculation above will be much higher for someone with metabolic syndrome, much lower for someone without. I’ve detailed my calculation here and I recommend anyone interested in this topic do the same for themselves: My 2021 carbon footprint as a physician without diabetes on a Low Carbohydrate diet – More about planes, cars and carbohydrates than cows
It is our future too
As the photo above (taken last year in Washington, DC) mentions, climate change is a threat to our future and it is ours to share, and make better.
Eckelman MJ, Huang K, Lagasse R, Senay E, Dubrow R, Sherman JD. Health Care Pollution And Public Health Damage In The United States: An Update. Health Aff [Internet]. 2020 Dec 1;39(12):2071–9. Available from: https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.01247