I'm chuckling to myself about the stark change in topics discussed over coffee with friends; 2019 was full of celebrity gossip, YouTube yoga cats, holidays etc, but over the past month we've chatted about meat-free bacon, compared plastic-free tampons, and debated biodegradable condoms. Racy eh?
It's also exciting that this week the NHS has declared a climate emergency. But what does this actually mean? Well, there'll be new guidance for staff, encouraging them to do things like use refillable water bottles and turn off appliances (man, I'm feeling smug right now as it's a big fat tick for OSMP: we're already supporting Refill, most of our staff bring their own lunch boxes, beeswax wraps, reusable coffee cups and water bottles, and we've all made a big effort to turn off lights, monitors, printers and photocopiers). It sends a clear message that the highest level of our healthcare system acknowledges the threat that climate breakdown poses to public health. But I'm a realist: it'll take a little time for local areas to shyly step up to the adult table. In fact, at the time of writing, only 3 trusts in the UK have pledged their commitment: Manchester, Newcastle, and Gloucester. Come on York, where's your game face?
The NHS is the fifth largest employer in the world (thanks Wikipedia), and as an organisation we produce 5% of the country's toxic emissions. Sigh. I share your frustration that the government holds many of the major cards here: oil contracts, HS2 and its wrecking-ball effects on the countryside, rescinding solar panel incentives, and pitiful recycling provision in York. But we muggles can still make positive changes in our tiny York-shaped bubble. And many of the changes recommended below from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are also good for our health (tick). We're told to buy less meat, cheese, milk and butter; buy local seasonal food; throw away less food; reduce driving and try to walk or cycle where possible; use trains or public transport instead of planes; ensure our homes are well insulated; and hassle manufacturers to reduce the carbon footprint of their products. Phew. It's amazing anyone has time to eat or sleep with such a list of objectives.
We can also petition our local hospital to follow the excellent example of our friends up in Newcastle. Whilst on a positive note York has a couple of electric vehicle charging points in the multi-storey park, my excellent secret agent there tells me that the canteen still uses single-use plastic cutlery and cups as well as polystyrene takeaway containers. Er, what?! There is no provision for recycling plastic bottles or milk cartons on wards. Er, WHAT?! Have you been a patient there or a visitor recently? Or maybe you're a healthcare professional and you go to educational meetings there, viewing the disposable coffee cups and dolls'-house-sized sachets of coffee and sugar with the same beady and desperately-trying-to-be-non-judgemental eye as me? Could you feed back to them how things could be improved?
Here, the government could really step up and implement punchier plans for NHS Trusts across the country to help support hospitals and GP surgeries in meeting the UK's commitment (now enshrined in law, so there!) to achieve "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions (that is, absorb or capture at least as much carbon as we produce) by 2050.
Which brings me satisfyingly back to biodegradable condoms. Potentially game-changing, but can they guarantee, er, zero emissions?