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Ministry members called to protect environment, decrease carbon footprint

April 1, 2015

By BETSY TAYLOR

Climate change isn't just an ecological crisis, it's also a moral issue and public health concern, said presenters during a recent CHA webinar on "Climate Change: An issue of Concern to the Church, Pope Francis and Catholic Health Care."

Daniel DiLeo is project manager at the Catholic Climate Covenant, a group of about a dozen Catholic organizations including CHA that work to address climate change. During the Feb. 18 webinar, he outlined theology about caring for the environment and resources for health care systems and providers looking to be good stewards of the Earth. Presenter Laura Anderko, a professor who holds the Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Endowed Chair in Values Based Health Care at Georgetown University's School of Nursing & Health Studies, spoke on the environmental impact of climate change, the related rise of several health problems and ways that Catholic health care systems, executives and care providers can work for change.

DiLeo set the foundation for the webinar with an overview of Catholic teaching related to the environment, including the pillars of Pope Francis' ecological vision. He said the pope speaks and writes about the goodness of all creation, humanity's unique place as both part of creation and at the apex of creation, the connection between caring for creation and the flourishing of humans, the connection between caring for creation and peace, and humanity's responsibility to be good environmental stewards.

DiLeo said, "In sum, Pope Francis calls all people of faith and good will to care for creation in solidarity with all persons through the complementary means of charity and justice. In doing so, he is building on the church's rich social and ecological tradition in inviting faith-based transformation at all levels of society."

He encouraged webinar participants to take Catholic Climate Covenant's "St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor" at catholicclimatecovenant.org. DiLeo described CHA environmental resources available at chausa.org/environment/overview including the documents Climate Change and Health: Is There A Role for the Health Care Sector?; Healing Communities and the Environment: Opportunities for Community Benefit Programs; and Connecting Health Care with Public and Environmental Health.

Anderko spoke about carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The gases are emitted during energy production, such as the burning of fossil fuel; from fuels used to power modes of transportation; and from industrial and agricultural sources and products. (The United States Environmental Protection Agency says, in the U.S., electricity production generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from burning coal and natural gas.) The greenhouse gases trap energy, leading to a warmer atmosphere and oceans. Environmental changes that have been tied to global warming include an increase in violent storms, droughts, flooding and heat waves. Warmer oceans are more acidic, a condition that threatens marine ecosystems, she explained.

She said, "We have begun to collect data and have evidence that there are a large number of health conditions exacerbated as a result of climate." For instance, she said, there are predictions that rising temperatures can lead to an increase in vector-borne illnesses such as malaria, as the mosquitoes that spread malaria thrive.

Anderko spoke of "climate refugees," residents displaced by natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, many of whom lost their homes, relocated and may have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder following the major life upheaval.

She encouraged health care providers to think about how to reduce and better manage the risks related to climate change and adverse health effects.

Individuals and health care systems can work to decrease their carbon footprint to better protect their communities and the Earth, she said. A carbon footprint is the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person. Anderko said hospitals and health care facilities can focus on energy efficiency; green building design and the generation or consumption of energy from clean, renewable sources and can commit to feeding staff and patients food from sustainably grown, locally produced sources.

When communities focus on basic public health issues, such as clean water, sanitation, vaccinations and disaster preparedness and response, they're helping to improve the environment of their communities. She highlighted websites, including georgetownclimate.org/adaptation/clearinghouse and climateandhealthcare.org and toolkit.climate.gov as good sites for additional related resources on climate change.

CHA's next environmental webinar "Environmental Stewardship: Advocacy and Action" will be at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sept. 29.

 

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