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Why Physicians Must Protect the Global Environment

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As healthcare professionals, physicians have a vital responsibility to promote health and wellbeing. However, the scope of their responsibility extends beyond their immediate patients. Physicians have an ethical obligation to protect the global environment, which is essential for maintaining the health of people and the planet. In this article, we will explore why physicians must prioritize environmental protection and take concrete actions to mitigate the impacts of human activity on the environment.

The Health Impacts of Environmental Degradation

The environment is inextricably linked to human health. Environmental degradation, caused by human activity such as pollution and deforestation, has severe health consequences for individuals and populations worldwide. Air pollution, for example, is responsible for millions of premature deaths every year. Climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, is increasing the frequency and severity of natural disasters and causing food and water shortages. These impacts disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, including the poor, elderly, and children.

Physicians can play a crucial role in mitigating these health impacts by taking action to protect the environment. They can advocate for policies that promote clean energy, reduce waste, and protect ecosystems. They can also raise awareness among their patients and communities about the health impacts of environmental degradation and encourage individual action to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Ethical Imperative for Physicians

Beyond the health impacts, there is an ethical imperative for physicians to protect the environment. As healthcare professionals, physicians take an oath to do no harm and to promote health and wellbeing. The degradation of the environment and the resulting impacts on health are a form of harm that physicians must address.

Moreover, the current climate crisis is a result of human activity that has accelerated over the past century. This accelerated environmental destruction is a violation of the fundamental principles of justice and equity, as vulnerable populations and future generations will bear the brunt of the impacts. Physicians have a responsibility to use their privileged position to address these injustices and advocate for environmental protection.

Concrete Actions Physicians Can Take

Physicians can take a range of concrete actions to protect the environment and promote health. They can start by examining their own practices and identifying areas where they can reduce their carbon footprint. For example, they can promote sustainable practices in their workplace, such as reducing waste and energy consumption.

Physicians can also advocate for policies that promote environmental protection. They can lobby policymakers to support clean energy, conservation, and other initiatives that reduce the impacts of human activity on the environment. They can also collaborate with environmental organizations to raise awareness about the health impacts of environmental degradation.


In conclusion, physicians have a critical role to play in protecting the environment and promoting health. The health impacts of environmental degradation are severe and far-reaching, and physicians have an ethical obligation to address them. By taking concrete actions to reduce their carbon footprint, advocate for environmental protection policies, and raise awareness among their patients and communities, physicians can help mitigate the impacts of human activity on the environment and promote a healthier, more sustainable future.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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