The Climate Emergency is a Health Emergency. A stable climate is crucial for health. Without accelerated action, there will be increases in heatwaves, worsening air quality, more storms and flooding and increased spread of infectious diseases. All of which are a threat to health.
The heatwave of summer 2022 caused over 3000 excess deaths in the UK.
Healthcare has a large carbon footprint. 3.5% of all road travel in England is NHS related. However, the carbon footprint of the NHS is reducing and there is a net zero target for NHS England of 2040. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a patient there are things you can do to help reduce the climate impact in this area.
The NHS accounts for 4-5% of the UK greenhouse gas emissions.
Medications contribute 20% of NHS England carbon footprint so it is important to take them correctly.
Asthma inhalers contribute to 3-4% of the entire NHS carbon footprint.
1. Attend medication reviews
You can help avoid over-requesting medications and reduce stockpiling by making sure you attend your annual medication review. This ensures the medications you are prescribed are still needed. 300 million pounds worth of medication go unused in England every year.
2. Asthma Inhalers – ask your GP about switching to a dry powder inhaler
The most common inhalers used in the UK at the moment are metered dose inhalers (MDIs), also known as aerosol spray inhalers or puffers. These contain propellants which are potent greenhouse gases, thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Other countries use far more dry powder inhalers (DPIs) which are much lower carbon footprint as they do not contain propellant gases.
Greenhouse gases in a 100-dose inhaler are equivalent to driving 180 miles – that’s the distance from London to Sheffield. A dry powder inhaler is equivalent to just 4 miles.
3. Recycle medicine blister packs
Superdrug recycle your empty medicine blister packs in the dedicated collection boxes in Superdrug stores containing a pharmacy. For every blister pack collected Terracycle will donate points to Superdrug pharmacies to be redeemed into financial donations towards Marie Curie.
4. Avoid flushing unused medications
Flushing medication down the toilet leads to an increased antibiotic resistance and interference with growth and reproduction in aquatic organisms.
Air pollution is one of the health implications of burning fossil fuels, which are also responsible for the climate crisis.
The annual mortality rate of human made air pollution in the UK is roughly equivalent to 30,000 deaths a year.
The best way to improve air quality is to leave the car at home and walk or cycle. If you have to drive, driving at a steady pace and avoiding idling your engine can make a big difference.
Fiction – Idling doesn’t put out a lot of pollution
Fact – An idling engine can produce up to twice as many exhaust emissions as an engine in motion. An idling car can fill up to 150 balloons with harmful emissions every minute. Switching off your engine can go a long way to improving air quality.
Fiction – Leaving your car running is cheaper than turning it off and on again
Fact – It is cheaper to turn off your engine. Sitting in your car with your engine running could cost you more than you think. Between 5% and 8% of fuel use occurs while idling.
Fiction – It’s better to be inside the car than out of it, it protects me from the fumes
Fact – The air quality inside the car can be up to twice as bad outside the car, and is even worse in winter. Why not try walking or cycling on quieter routes?
Fiction – I need to keep the engine running to keep the heater on
Fact – If you park and keep the ignition on, rather than turning the car off completely, the heater should stay warm for up to 30 minutes.
Up to 160,000 deaths a year are related to poor air quality.
Fiction – It’s not illegal to idle
Fact – It is illegal. Leaving a vehicle’s engine running unnecessarily while that vehicle is stationary on a public road could get you a fine of £20 or even £80 in air quality management areas.
Fiction – Idling doesn’t damage people’s health
Fact – Vehicles idling can put as much as twice as much pollutants as a car in motion. Reducing air pollution can help cut heart disease, reduce lung cancer and prevent asthma cases. Children growing up in polluted parts of London have significantly smaller lung volume, up to 5% less than their peers elsewhere in England.
The Clean Air Hub website has collated everything you need to know about air pollution in one place. It includes an air pollution forecast that can help you make decisions about areas you may wish to avoid on high pollution days.
Active travel is a way of incorporating physical activity into necessary journeys, so you improve your own fitness, and that of the planet by reducing air pollution at the same time. Walking or cycling can be an enjoyable experience when the roads feel safer.
Cyclists are exposed to less pollution than car drivers or bus passengers, and have the added benefit of keeping fit as they travel to work.
Evidence suggests that walking and cycling can contribute positively towards mental health both through physical activity and other factors, in comparison to commuting by car. Most studies of the commute and stress find that active travel, followed by public transport, are the least stressful modes.
Health Advantages of Nature
The benefits of spending time in nature are not only for your mental health; research has shown that time spent in nature improves your immune functioning, so that exercise in nature has additional benefits over and above the exercise itself. Being connected with nature not only helps your emotional health, but helps the planet too because you are more likely to look after what you value.
Research has shown five key ingredients to nature connectedness: contact, emotion, meaning, beauty and compassion. Go for a walk or a cycle. Plant something in your garden or window box. Join a gardening club or conservation charity . Help New Leaf Alresford with community planting!