Social Costs of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Healthcare Industry are Astounding

…and we’ve been ignoring them completely

David Introcaso writes in The Hill: The social cost of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, considered the single most important measure in addressing the climate crisis, is generally defined as an estimate of societal damages, including health harms, resulting from unpaid or externalized GHG emissions. Researchers have been calculating this cost for several decades. Federal agencies began regularly incorporating the social cost of these emissions in 2008 — today, more than 80 federal regulations reflect its use.

Despite the fact that GHG emissions are defined as the greatest threat to human health this century, the social cost of the health care industry’s emissions has somehow escaped the interest of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This is difficult to comprehend, since the health care industry emits an enormous amount of GHG pollution.

A 2020 calculation by academic researchers estimated health care’s GHG emissions equaled 553 million metric tons of CO2e in 2018. (CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalent, is the term used to express how much a particular GHG would contribute to global warming if it were carbon.) Per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this amount equaled 12 percent of total U.S. emissions in 2018. For perspective, U.S. health care emissions are nearly five times that of the U.S. military — the world’s single largest institutional fossil fuel consumer.

If U.S. health care were its own state, it would easily fall within the top 10 percent of the highest emitting countries. The largest industry in the world’s largest economy, U.S. health care accounts for roughly half — or $4.7 trillion — of total annual global health care spending. Long known for wasteful spending, U.S. health care is remarkably energy inefficient. For example, out of 6,129 hospitals, the industry’s largest GHG emitting sector, only 37, or 0.6 percent, were EPA Energy Star certified for energy efficiency in 2023. This number is even more trivial when you realize Energy Star measures only Scope 1 and 2 energy use intensity, which account for as little as 25 percent of hospitals’ total GHG footprint. More here.