Planetary Health Statement
September 26, 2022
The climate crisis is a health crisis. It is well established that the inexorable effects of climate change is already affecting human health in detrimental ways. For example: Heat-related morbidity and mortality, such as dehydration, kidney dysfunction, and heat stroke, is already on the rise, complicated by food and water scarcity due to changing temperatures and precipitation patterns.3 Infectious diseases are changing: vector-borne illnesses are being discovered in new geographic regions and water-borne illnesses are increasing due to flooding events. Cardiopulmonary morbidity and mortality, such as COPD and asthma exacerbations and cardiovascular events, are also affected by climate change and air pollution.
Vulnerable populations will be disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. According to the WHO, “the people whose health is being harmed first and worst by the climate crisis are people who contribute least to its causes, and who are least able to protect themselves and their families against it – people in low-income and disadvantaged countries and communities.”1 The effects of climate change will “affect the most vulnerable, including children, older populations, ethnic minorities, poorer communities, and those with underlying health problems.”3 The Perelman School of Medicine recognizes its responsibility in caring for our global disadvantaged populations, and more specifically, is committed to protecting our own West Philadelphia community.
The Perelman School of Medicine is committed to helping to mitigate the catastrophic consequences of climate change. In recognition of this urgent imperative, PSOM commits to supporting students, faculty, and staff who will play integral roles in the mitigation of this global crisis through education, research, infrastructure, and community action.
- Education: The Perelman School of Medicine is dedicated to being a leader in educating future generations of physicians on the health effects of climate change. PSOM has integrated climate change into its mission by creating a novel role within the medical school leadership: Director of the Planetary Health Curriculum. This faculty member’s responsibilities include collaborating with PSOM faculty and staff to ensure that medical students are receiving instruction on the health effects of climate change and the disproportionate effects on disadvantaged communities. PSOM also supports the Healthcare Sustainability Group, a student-led initiative to improve sustainability throughout the school through curricular initiatives, advocacy, and research initiatives.
- Research: The American Medical Association “supports epidemiological, translational, clinical and basic science research necessary for evidence-based global climate change policy decisions related to health care and treatment.”4 In accordance with this, the Perelman School of Medicine supports researchers who are exploring the effects of climate change on human health and the environment and mitigation strategies that can help alleviate the effects of climate change on human health and well-being. One example of this is the Center for Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, which works with communities throughout the region to help identify environmental health questions of concern and mobilizing the research expertise of the Center to answer those questions.
- Clinical Practice: Climate change, pollution, shortages of arable land and clean water, and degradation of the natural systems we rely on all stem from human behavior. Educating patients about their capacity as change-makers is a unique opportunity as PSOM clinicians community seek to address the health outcomes of these challenges.
- Infrastructure: The Perelman School of Medicine is committed to embodying the values highlighted in this statement in its day-to-day operations as well as its curriculum and research. As such, the school supports Penn's commitment to be carbon neutral by 2042.
- Community Action: The Perelman School of Medicine is committed to translating knowledge into action. The Perelman School of Medicine invests in green infrastructure in the areas surrounding the school to promote human health and well-being while supporting the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions. Programs such as the Penn Urban Health Lab also partner with communities to build healthy and safe neighborhoods.
- World Health Organization. COP26 special report on climate change and health: the health argument for climate change. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2021.
- Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change: Global Warming of 1.5oC.
- Call for Emergency Action to Limit Global Temperatures, Restore Biodiversity, and Protect Health. New England Journal of Medicine. 2021. 385;12.
- American Medical Association: Global Climate Change and Human Health.