By Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH, physician in Medicine at Children’s and faculty, Center for Health and the Global Environment.
Forty years ago today, a group of college kids (with some help from public leaders) sought to bridge the gap between humans and the rest of the living world upon which our health depends by creating Earth Day. Earth Day serves as a reminder that we can do more to leave a more sustainable footprint upon the planet.
Along those lines, it’s helpful to see what Children’s has already done, as local actions, to address global environmental problems. First, Children’s Hospital subsidizes public transport and bicycle commutes for employees. For most Americans the commute to work is their single greatest daily contribution to carbon dioxide emissions, the most important greenhouse gas that is causing the Earth’s climate to change. Burning fossil fuels also releases chemicals that can cause asthma exacerbations in kids and heart disease in adults. Among other reasons, this is why a no-idling policy has been in place around the entrance to the hospital.
Major initiatives have been undertaken to reduce energy and water consumption. In many rooms around the hospital, automatic light switches have been installed. These switches shut off lights when no one is around. Likewise, computers have also been uniformly wired to shut off their monitors if left inactive. Such measures save a tremendous amount of electricity and allow everyone to breathe easier as they reduce the amount of pollution generated in the process of burning fossil fuels to create electricity. The installation of water-saving fixtures in bathrooms has saved thousand of gallons of water from being literally flushed down the toilet each year.
And last, but certainly not least, has been the widespread introduction of recycling. More Americans recycle than vote in most elections and with good reason. Keeping garbage out of the waste stream not only keeps landfills less filled, but also can remarkably lower energy use when recycled materials are used to make new bottles, paper, cans, carpeting or even clothing when compared to starting from scratch. Recycled aluminum cans, for instance, require 90 percent less energy to make and generate 90 percent less air-pollution in their production than cans made with newly mined aluminum.
To learn more about sustainable living and the medical community please check out Dr. Bernstein’s address to the National Press Club of Australia, and an interview he did with Crikey, a popular Australian health blog.