Walking the talk- how can HIFA members reduce global aviation emissions? (13) Health information, digital health and the climate crisis (2)

1 February, 2020


Thanks to so many of you for responding on HIFA and GDHN- Alain, Wayan, Isabelle, Ishrat, Thomas, Neil, Adrienne, Amelia, Kia, James, Philip, Terry, Reynald and Michael. There have been many great points about minimising the ecological damage of the health system itself, using HIS epidemiological information to mitigate the health impacts of the climate crisis, providing health services better suited to the changing ecological determinants of health, and empowering people/patients to better cope with coming climate and ecological shocks.

I am a member of Extinction Rebellion (see here- https://rebellion.earth/) which uses the term climate and ecological crisis rather than climate change. It’s not about the world’s temperature simply rising by a couple of degrees centigrade (who in Northern Hemisphere winters wouldn’t like the weather to be a little warmer?). What matters is that the additional energy causes more frequent and more destructive climate catastrophes (hurricanes, droughts, floods, typhoons, heat waves etc) and that the changing of atmospheric and ocean circulation patterns (tides, winds, rainfall, vegetation zones, sea level rises etc) will be hugely damaging to human society (especially the poor), which combined with environmental & ecological crises (pollution, desterification, chemical dumping, micro-plastics, destruction of habitats such as forests, jungles & reefs) contribute to biodiversity loss with many species dying out (the 6th mass extinction)– all driven by humanity (anthropocentric).

I take Alain’s point that the tech industry as a whole contributes to the climate and ecological crisis. There is huge damage in producing tech products and in running the services. Most uses of tech I would agree hurt the planet. Some uses of tech I think are nett-positive on the climate– video conferencing rather than everyone flying to face-to-face conferences (as Amelia and Neil have said and HIFA is working on). So certainly, we should consider the environmental impact of ICT4D (including digital health), as much as we currently do for the budget, the impact and the financial sustainability of projects.

Perhaps we can look at this issue with experience from another medical area– surgery. Surgery is a major assault on the patient’s body, so is only done when the benefits are likely to outweigh the harm, within scientific knowledge, risk assessment and informed consent. Could we say something like, “Tech projects always do environmental damage, which may be justified in certain circumstances where there is an evidence-base that suggests there will be a net-benefit”? Something like, "First do no ecological harm".

I look forward to this discussion progressing. Perhaps as a first step anyone who wants can write a paragraph or two on what they see as the main issues/if they are currently working on digital health & climate/suggestions for new initiatives/existing resources to consider. From this information we can put together some collated & grouped notes that could be the input document to a webinar where we can discuss this and decide what we want to do. This could end up as a working group or some such thing. Does that sound OK?

The timeline I’m suggesting is this:

- Send any ideas on digital health & climate crisis by Friday 7 Feb.

- A few of us pull this together into a working document by Friday 14 Feb (Valentine’s Day).

- Then we have an online discussion using Zoom in the week of 17–21 Feb.

If this makes sense, can we please meet in the week of 17–21 Feb. To find an appropriate time I have set up a Doodle poll (here https://doodle.com/poll/6pgw5byr4gr72vhu) in hours that work for most of

Africa/Europe/US (apologies to those in Asia, Australasia and the Pacific-coast of the Americas).

I welcome comments, questions and better suggestions.

Best wishes,


Link to Doodle poll: https://doodle.com/poll/6pgw5byr4gr72vhu

HIFA Profile: Peter Benjamin is SA director of HealthEnabled, South Africa.

Professional interests: Digital health, mHealth, Empowerment through health information.

Email address: peter AT healthenabled.org