Join ATS Efforts to Support Renewable Energy

The ATS works year-round to combat the effects of climate change on respiratory health and to promote policy to benefit those living with respiratory diseases.

Eric Balaban, MD
Eric Balaban, MD

“The health of the planet and the health of patients are intertwined,” said Eric Balaban, MD, a member of the ATS Environmental Health Policy Committee (EHPC). “It’s wrong to think that we can care for patients’ health while simultaneously damaging the ecosystems we rely on for food, air, and water.”

The EHPC was a catalyst for creating an opportunity for ATS 2024 International Conference attendees to make individual contributions to offset the environmental impact associated with this year’s conference in San Diego. Voluntary $20 donations, made at the time of registration, will be used to purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs).

“The money goes to purchase energy from renewable energy providers across the U.S. because climate change is affected by carbon produced anywhere. Greenhouse gas produced anywhere is bad for the entire planet, and a reduction in CO2 anywhere is good,” said ATS Chief of Advocacy and Government Relations Gary Ewart, MHS. “It’s an investment in the development of renewable energy.”

The International Conference is one of the largest events hosted by the ATS each year, making it a prime opportunity for making the ATS’s activities “greener.”

“We as physicians have an obligation to act on this and to make sure we’re leading by example, so we wanted to look at the biggest impact we’re having on our environment and make sure we’re being as sustainable as possible,” Dr. Balaban said.

RECs were chosen over carbon credits because the market for the latter doesn’t meet the metrics of reliability the EHPC wanted to deliver to ATS members, he explained. Electric companies provide third-party oversight for the REC market.

“When you buy one of these certificates, you support the production of nationwide sustainable energy by purchasing a megawatt hour of green electricity,” Dr. Balaban said. “While it’s not as comprehensive as buying down CO2, the impact from your purchase is much more certain.”

Renewable electricity is produced by verifiable solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, eligible biomass, and low-impact small hydroelectric sources.

“While we’re proud of offering a REC option and the certainty that comes with the sustainability practice it encourages, we also recognize that this is the beginning of a lot more work to do because we want leave the planet better than we found it,” Dr. Balaban said.

ATS Input on U.S. Policy

In November 2023, with significant input from the ATS, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency began using an updated estimate of the social cost of greenhouse gases that will be part of all of the agency’s climate-related policies going forward. Prior to the update, the social cost of carbon was estimated at about $57. Now, it is estimated to be $190.

“Essentially, if you’re trying to make decisions about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, you need to have some sense of the value of those reductions, and the social cost of greenhouse gases is the value that’s assigned for that reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, calculated on a per-ton basis,” explained Kevin R. Cromar, PhD, lead author of the Annals of the American Thoracic Society paper that included recommendations related to the impact of global health on economic models of climate change. “We now have a better understanding of the benefits of reducing greenhouse gases. When we decide how aggressively we want to address greenhouse gas emissions, there’s a much stronger economic rationale for taking more aggressive action on climate policies.”

To achieve this understanding, ATS members participated in a workshop in 2021 to analyze existing data on the likely adverse health outcomes that would result from an increase in global temperature.

In the previous social cost of greenhouse gases estimate, less than 10 percent of the estimated damages were attributed to health. Now, in large part based on the results from the workshop, health damages account for about half of the estimated damages and estimated benefits.

“It’s a much better reflection of our scientific understanding of how climate impacts patient health,” Dr. Cromar said. “It really represents the type of work that’s possible by convening experts and making sure the best available research is being considered in policy decisions.”

The paper published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society that informed the EPA’s social cost of greenhouse gases estimate continues to influence researchers and policymakers. One of the strongest recommendations from its authors was that climate and air quality health needs to be factored into economic models.

“Things like wildfires, dust storms, and temperature-induced ozone formation — we know that it is important and we talk about it for motivating rationale for climate change, but it’s absent from any policy consideration,” Dr. Cromar said. “There is a scientific research effort to be responsive to that recommendation so we can do another update of those values that take into account climate and air quality impacts.”

Don’t Miss ATS 2024 Highlights: On Demand

Don’t forget that ATS 2024 Highlights: On Demand are available to all conference registrants! On Demand will give you access to the Opening Ceremony, Plenary session, Keynote Series, Clinical Year in Review, Adult Clinical Core Curriculum, and so much more. The topics will cover ILD, asthma, health equity, and CF, to name just a few. On Demand content will be accessible to all ATS 2024 full conference and On Demand registrants until March 2025.