Healthcare Sustainability

The Link between Climate Change and Equity

Climate change and equity are two interrelated issues that affect the lives and well-being of the planet’s population of 8 billion people. Scientists conclusively show that humans have caused climate change due to accumulated greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution. Excess atmospheric carbon, mainly from fossil fuel use, affects human health as well as social, political, and economic outcomes. As with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change amplifies existing inequalities among and within countries. For instance, Stanford scientists found that global warming worsened inequality between developed and developing nations by 25% since 1960. A recent World Bank study estimates that climate change will push up to 132 million additional people into extreme poverty by 2030.

Children, women, the elderly, racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, and indigenous peoples are amongst the most affected by climate change. They face greater risks from its impacts, including heat waves, wildfires, floods, droughts, sea level rise, and diseases. Additionally, they have less access to resources, information, and decision-making power to adapt to these untoward impacts. As one comprehensive example, the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility has studied how extreme weather events in the United States place Black livelihood, well-being, and socioeconomic mobility at risk.

What does this mean for Rad Health Equity? Equity strategies should include goals to reduce carbon emissions, reduce environmental waste, and build resilience of communities that are unequally affected by climate change. Similarly, for climate mitigation and adaptation, let’s work to redesign systems that have unequally affected the vulnerable, especially since these populations have least contributed to overall carbon emissions. We can address historical injustices, while also creating a more sustainable, fair, and inclusive future. In so doing, we can become the ancestors that future generations admire.

– Reed Omary, M.D., M.S.