An interview with Ankush Bansal, Florida Clinicians for Climate Action
As part of its series “The Business of Climate Change,” which highlights the climate views of business men and women throughout the state, The Invading Sea spoke with Ankush Bansal, founding co-chair of Florida Clinicians for Climate Action.
Here are some highlights from the interview.
First, can you talk a little bit about Florida Clinicians for Climate Action and what it does?
It was created a couple years ago out of a need to address the effects of climate change on health, particularly in a state like Florida, which is actually one of the hardest-hit states in the country if not the world. According to the UN framework for climate change, Miami is either the number one or number two hardest-hit city that’s going to be affected by climate change in the future.
And so our goal was to create an organization where physicians, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners and executives could come together, learn about the effects of climate change on health, and advocate regarding that.
Florida has been increasingly affected by rising temperatures, extreme weather, flooding, algal blooms, and other environmental changes. How are these events affecting the health of the people who live here?
Number one, we can talk about heat because in Florida it’s often very hot during the year. And if you think about heat, it mostly affects people who work outdoors as well as athletes, but really it affects all of us because all of us are going to be outside at some point.
But just taking, for example, the outdoor workers, that’s a significant percentage of the workforce of Florida. I think the estimation is about 20 to 25%. And so each year it gets hotter in Florida. We get, obviously, the humidity with that.
And so what heat does to outdoor workers, or to anybody, is it will dehydrate you, but for people that have chronic medical conditions—so let’s say, for example, heart disease—it can actually increase your risk of getting a heart attack or going into decompensated heart failure if you have a history of heart failure.
It can affect asthma and COPD. And because of the dehydration, it can lead you into kidney failure, which hopefully is reversible, but for somebody who already has kidney disease, it can be a very serious thing. So that’s the heat.
The next thing is the algae blooms, which often come because of the agricultural practices where we over-fertilize and it goes into our fresh water. The primary source of freshwater in Florida is Lake Okeechobee, and so all of that freshwater gets polluted, creates algae blooms because of over-fertilization, over-nutrition, and what I’ve seen in the last couple of years here in South Florida, are people coming in with respiratory conditions as well as dermatologic conditions
Now, those may not be fatal, but they do land people in the hospital, which increases medical costs and takes people away from work as well as time from their families.
And then the third thing is hurricanes. We’re getting more frequent hurricanes, more severe hurricanes, and that leads to so many different things, including trauma, lack of access to medications when a hurricane hits, lack of access to medical care, and then all of these things together affect mental health, which is not talked about very often. And that’s a really, really big problem.
Are there certain populations or demographics more oppressed than others?
I alluded to the outdoor workers initially, so there was a (recent) report actually by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and they did some estimation about this. They said that just looking at South Florida, Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach, it’s going to affect by mid-century $8.4 billion in total earnings. But it also means for the individual person, the outdoor worker, which disproportionately are people of color, or people at the lower socioeconomic level, it will affect their wages by about $3,700 per year, and about 30 days of work per year.
But then you also think about people that are near freshwater, so the algae blooms, or let’s talk about sugarcane burning, particularly in the western part of Palm Beach County. So those people are affected as well.
How aware is the medical community of these issues as a whole? Do you think medical-care providers receive enough education and training in this area?
They’re starting to. I would say that medical students and residents… are starting to get more education about this, but the overwhelming number of physicians out there are people that are already in the workforce, so they’ve already completed training, and they don’t have that education.
Some of them are learning, and that’s part of what the Florida Clinicians for Climate Action is trying to do, because it’s going to affect all of our patients.
We can do a better job. And I think if we educate people in the healthcare workforce … then we can educate our patients accordingly, and counsel them on how to mitigate it and how to adapt to it.
How can more clinicians incorporate climate action into their practices?
There’s several programs that are out there. Florida Clinicians for Climate Action is one of them. We do a lot of educational activities. We have things online.
Before the pandemic, but even some since the pandemic, we have done educational lectures as well as full-day meetings once a year on how climate change affects you.
There’s actually a colleague of mine who developed a program called My Green Doctor out of Jacksonville, teaching physicians how to green their practice, and it’s actually been a wild success that’s used worldwide. So those are some of the ways. There’s other organizations out there that are focused specifically on how to green practices, both the outpatient practices, the clinics, and the offices, as well as the hospitals.
Kevin Mims, a Florida-based freelance journalist, is the producer of “The Business of Climate Change.” He conducted this interview with Ankush Bansal.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state.