What is the best way for SGIM to be engaged in advocacy regarding climate change?
Each year, SGIM’s Health Policy Committee (HPC) develops a list of priorities for national advocacy in clinical practice, education, and research that are approved by SGIM’s Council.1 Although the HPC’s current health policy agenda does not mention climate change as a priority, the HPC reported to the Council that it wanted to clarify the Society’s position on climate change and improve communication with the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health. As part of the process of clarifying the Society’s position, the HPC will have to decide how to prioritize climate change in its health policy agenda, specifically whether it should be a focus of active advocacy, coalition advocacy, or just monitoring. Since climate change falls beyond the realm of the Society’s top priorities for clinical practice, education, and research, it may fit best under coalition advocacy which refers to issues for which SGIM works collaboratively with other stakeholder organizations to advance our position. Thus, it will be very important to nurture an effective partnership with the Consortium.
What could be done to strengthen SGIM’s relationship with the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health?
SGIM has been a member of the Consortium for several years, but communication between the two organizations has been relatively infrequent. In spring 2020, SGIM joined the Consortium in expressing serious concerns about the “transparency” rule proposed and subsequently adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The rule prohibits the EPA from considering any evidence where the data behind the study is not publicly available, effectively excluding a lot of peer-reviewed scientific studies.
Thanks in part to the impetus of the SGIM Forum editors in dedicating this issue to the climate theme, we are now moving forward to ask the HPC and Council to endorse two statements developed by the Consortium. The first statement is a national call to action on climate, health, and equity that has been endorsed by 16 of the 31 organizational members of the Consortium.2 The second statement contains recommendations for the Biden-Harris Administration regarding actions the medical and public health communities see as necessary “to address the climate health emergency and move the nation toward a vision of healthy people in healthy places on a healthy planet.”3
What specific actions could SGIM members take to address concerns about climate change?
In the HPC’s “advocacy pyramid” that guides SGIM’s approach to health policy, the top of the pyramid refers to collective efforts by the Committee and its lobbyists, while the base of the pyramid consists of individual actions that members take. The following is a list of specific actions that we encourage individual members to consider:
- Foundational. Learn more about the contributors to and health impacts of climate change: https://www.nejm.org/climate-crisis.
- Clinical care. Start conversations to help patients understand health impacts of climate change and how to improve their own health and their communities with “co-benefit” approaches: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-6443.
- Local advocacy. Develop skills related to communication with legislators and leaders, as well as letters to the editor: https://usclimateandhealthalliance.org/uscha-state-policy-initiative/advocacy-tools/.
- Community presentations. Be prepared to help explain to your community how it can address climate change in a practical and effective manner:
- Financial advocacy. Understand what industries contribute to climate change, and encourage divestment from these companies: https://climatechange.lta.org/divest-sri/.
- Medical education. Develop cases and curricula for teaching medical students, residents and other trainees to understand the impact of climate change, and how to address it with their patients, communities and professional organizations: https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/research/global-consortium-climate-and-health-education.
- Grand rounds, lectures, and presentations. Review available evidence to develop a regionally-relevant talk on health impacts of climate change for colleagues and staff - https://www.acponline.org/advocacy/advocacy-in-action/climate-change-toolkit.
- Academic work. Submit research, curricula, and workshops to share with academic colleagues at the SGIM national meeting, to promote more discussion and collaboration around addressing health impacts of climate change: https://www.sgim.org/meetings.
- Interest groups and committees. Join fellow SGIM members in the HPC, Environmental Health Interest Group, or other related venues to discuss and address health impacts of climate change: https://connect.sgim.org/.
- Additional training. Gain additional training on advocacy through fellowship opportunities: https://www.healthequity.challiance.org/health-equity-education-advocacy-fellowship.
- Making conferences climate friendly. Work with professional societies such as SGIM to develop more robust virtual options for meetings or explore viable carbon offset options for those that travel to be there in person.
- Collective SGIM advocacy. Clarify SGIM’s policy position on climate change and work with other professional organizations to support the Consortium’s call to action.
- Collaborating professional societies. Learn more about what collaborating health care societies are doing through the Consortium: https://medsocietiesforclimatehealth.org/.