Health Care’s Contribution to Climate Change, with Elizabeth Cerceo, MD


Cerceo explains how the health care system contributes to climate change and the subsequent negative impact on patients, especially those in vulnerable or disadvantaged communities.

Worldwide, the health care industry contributes approximately 5% of total greenhouse gas emissions and similar fractions of toxic air emissions, coming primarily from the US health care sector and contributing directly to the climate change crisis.

In line with health care’s notable contributions to climate change, the health care system also feels the impact of changing climatic conditions, something Elizabeth Cerceo, MD, associate internal medicine program director and director of environmental health in the division of hospital medicine at Cooper University Health Care, discussed in her session at the 2024 American College of Physicians (ACP) Internal Medicine Meeting in Boston.

“Just in our practice of medicine, we see the waste, we see that there's unnecessary care. And that all translates into not only expense, but also waste in landfills, plastic waste, energy usage, it's all of these things that contribute to the downstream adverse effects on our environment, which can then indirectly harm our patients,” Cerceo explained in an interview with HCPLive. “That's not what we're aiming to do, we want to take care of our patients.”

She went on to describe how she sees climate health in 2 streams: medicine’s impact on healthcare sustainability and recognizing climate change’s impact on patients. Specifically, she cited people who live near incinerators or who spend time sitting in traffic and the impact such exposures can have on conditions health care providers treat every day, like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

“We really need to increasingly understand that the ecological determinants of health are even more foundational, and they're affecting our patients, and us, everyone, all the time,” Cerceo emphasized, noting most people don’t make the connection between these health issues and their linkage to environmental factors.

She also made a point of highlighting the disproportionate impact on certain communities, describing “people who may live near fracking, who live near incinerators, who live within 100-200 feet of highways and are exposed to ultra-fine particulate matter and pollution all the time, these vulnerable, disadvantaged communities are going to be disproportionately harmed from climate impacts.”

Cerceo has no relevant disclosures.


  1. Eckelman MJ, Huang K, Lagasse R, et al. Health Care Pollution And Public Health Damage In The United States: An Update. Health Affairs.
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