Feature Stories

Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, August 2016

New UCSF Campaign Makes the Connection Between Health and Climate Change

According to the 2015 Lancet Commission on climate change, climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.  The Commission calls for a new public health advocacy movement and stresses the need for health professionals to get more engaged. Aligned with this call to action, the Office of Sustainability has launched a new campaign, Climate Changes Health, that emphasizes the vital connection between climate change and health.  “UCSF is the leading health sciences university in the nation, and we recognize that taking action against climate change protects public health, which is consistent with our mission,” explained Gail Lee, UCSF Sustainability Director. The goal of the campaign is to make the connection between climate solutions and improving people’s health.

In reaction to the launch of the campaign Jen Jackson, Toxics Reduction & Healthy Ecosystems Programs Manager, San Francisco Department of Environment, commented, “We applaud UCSF for highlighting the links between climate change and health. It is incumbent upon each of us to take action to reduce our carbon footprints, because as the severity of climate change increases, the severity of negative health impacts on ourselves and our larger community will also rise.”

The Health Implications of Climate Change

At a forum on the greening of health care last year, Linda Rudolph, MD, MPH, Co-Director of the Climate Change and Public Health Project, Center for Climate Change and Health, explained that smoke from wild fires, increased ozone and dust, a longer pollen season, urban heat islands, vector-borne illnesses, and drought all impact the health of the most vulnerable—the elderly and the young. According to Dr. Rudolph, climate change health impacts include:  heat-related illnesses and deaths such as heart attacks and strokes, asthma and other air pollution impacts, allergic disease due to increased dust and pollen and vector-borne diseases such as Lyme, Zika, Dengue fever and west nile virus. 


Phase II of the UCSF poster campaign looks at other health impacts from climate change including:

  • The impact of air quality on premature births;
  • The impact of water quality and flooding on health; and
  • The impacts to vulnerable populations, including youth and the elderly.

The Good News

The good news is that many of the actions necessary to mitigate and adapt to climate change have significant and immediate co-benefits for health.  For example, on the path to carbon neutrality, there are co-benefits that come along with the transition to clean energy and energy efficiency.  Reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) reduces air pollution as well as reducing asthma, respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and adverse birth outcomes.  On the transportation front, walking and biking more offers a range of health benefits, including a reduced disease burden for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, dementia, breast cancer and colon cancer.

UCSF is Doing its Part

UCSF has a robust strategy for reducing its carbon footprint, ranging from the greening of labs and operating rooms to encouraging the use of public transit to building state-of-the-art green buildings. In addition to these larger strategies, the UCSF community is helping to reduce climate impact with simple actions, including taking the stairs, taking alternative transportation and turning off display monitors.

  • Taking the stairs: One simple action the UCSF community is taking to reduce GHG emissions is to skip the elevator and walk the stairs. According to The Nature Conservancy if you take two flights of stairs every day at work, you will save about 72 kilowatts of energy each of those days — which equals about 90 cents a year in energy costs. Multiply that by UCSF’s 22,000 employees and collectively this small change can add up to some real savings. Plus, it is good for your health.

  • Take alternate transportation:  The most recent 2016 UCSF commute survey found that 72% of UCSF faculty, staff and students take alternative transportation to work or telecommute. Reducing the single occupancy vehicle (SOV) rate is still a top priority.  With 22,000 employees and more than 5,000 students, residents and postdoctoral scholars, a major source of GHG emissions is commuter travel.  Take public transportation or check out the numerous alternative transportation resources offered by UCSF.

  • Turn off computer monitors: Another simple step for reducing your carbon footprint is to turn off your monitor when your computer is not in use. This simple action can save potentially around $50 a year and translates to a CO2 savings of 261 lbs a year—the equivalent of 13 gallons of gas. Many faculty, staff and students are using a reminder sticker to remind them to turn it off. Monitor
    Email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to request stickers for your office. Or you can go into your control panel, select power options and select power saver to set your computer to go to sleep after 20 minutes of inactivity. If you don’t have it installed yet, go HERE to learn about how to install the Big Fix (icon with purple circle and a green arrow), which includes a high-performance power scheme.

Learn More

Making the Connection: Climate Changes Health
US Climate and Health Alliance
2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change: Policy Responses to Protect Public Health
Climate Change, Health, and Equity: Opportunities for Action, Public Health Institute

Story by Green Impact: Making Green Happen (Strategy * Communications * Engagement)