On Earth Day, Faculty of Medicine’s planetary health director urges turning eco-anxiety into action

Faculty of Medicine
Faculty of Medicine
Earth Day
Dr. Husein Moloo has been taking a broader lens look at identifying solutions in decreasing the carbon footprint of the medical field and driving sustainable practices.

By David McFadden
Research Writer

It’s all too easy to let a vexing sense of “eco-anxiety” creep into your life when each new scientific roundup about the state of the planet is grimmer than the one before. Massive wildfires, floods, and the accelerating pace of glacial melting routinely top news reports. The sheer scale of the climate crisis can feel overwhelming.

But as the global community marks another Earth Day on April 22, that’s one big reason to embrace ways of actively doing something about the problem and adding your voice toward driving sustainable practices, according to Dr. Husein Moloo, the Director of Planetary Health for the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine.

A thought leader whose portfolio and appointment last year as the Faculty’s Planetary Health director was a first nationwide, Dr. Moloo says there are many opportunities for individuals to turn their ecological anxiety into action. And there’s no better time than now.

“Whether it's looking at our consumerism, advocating to MPs, trying to influence the organizations in which we work, changing our day-to-day practices, moving to a more plant-based diet, there's really a lot of different things that we can do,” he says. “We're in this very unique situation where we understand the impact that we're having; we have the science showing that things need to change. So we all have an opportunity to be that change now.”

Embracing change to avoid the worst scenarios of the climate crisis is becoming increasingly urgent. The last report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change detailed how humanity and nature are being pushed beyond their abilities to adapt. The World Health Organization has declared the climate crisis as the globe’s largest public health emergency.

An associate professor of surgery at the Faculty of Medicine and a clinical investigator in epidemiology at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), Dr. Moloo has been taking a broader lens look at identifying solutions in decreasing the carbon footprint of the medical field.

This is important because the environmental impacts of the health care industry and its medical supply chain are significant. Canada’s health system accounts for nearly 5 percent of national greenhouse gas emissions. If you take health care as its own global entity, it would rank as the fifth highest country in terms of world emissions, according to Dr. Moloo.

That’s why Dr. Moloo has been very busy with his ambitious new Faculty of Medicine appointment, exploring ways to embrace new strategies in reducing waste with colleagues at uOttawa’s affiliated hospitals. This endeavor will involve new ways of procuring and using equipment. His role as the Faculty’s Director of Planetary Health is part of Medicine’s contribution to the University’s Transformation 2030 pledge to promote use of greener practices and activities on campus, and beyond.

In that vein, he’s also helping to advance goals with uOttawa colleagues toward paving the way for an educational curriculum around the concepts of planetary health. Starting this summer, there are plans at uOttawa to launch a new multidisciplinary effort to help spur sustainable health care practices and tackle topics including how policy can intersect with achieving health goals around the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of opportunities for engaging meaningfully about climate solutions with other academic institutions from across Canada and around the world, he says.

For anyone needing a shot of inspiration with internalizing an all-hands-on-deck attitude toward an environmentally sustainable future, Dr. Moloo points to a persuasive quote from the late communications theorist Marshall McLuhan: “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.”

There’s so much to get accomplished and “we just can’t put this off for another 10 or 15 years. We need changes quickly,” says Dr. Moloo.

Dr. Husein Moloo