The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against recipients of federal funding, including those covered by Medicaid and Medicare, along with actions that have racially disparate impacts. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, which is responsible for enforcing civil rights laws, has never addressed, much less recognized, the climate crisis despite the fact that communities of color disproportionately suffer innumerable and unrelenting climate-related health harms. Failing to address this injustice constitutes both environmental and institutional racism.
The U.S. currently accounts for approximately 14% of total annual global carbon emissions, and is responsible for upward of 40% of total global historical carbon emissions. The country’s health care industry, which receives more than one-third of its revenue from public health insurance programs, accounts for approximately 8.5% of total U.S. emissions and approximately 25% of total global health care emissions. This is due in part to the energy intensity of U.S. hospitals, which is more than twice that of European hospitals.