Climate Change is the Biggest Health Innovation Opportunity of Our Times

There are viable approaches to save millions of lives and trillions of dollars

Chunka Mui
5 min readOct 19, 2019


If you’re looking to make a meaningful dent in the universe, few opportunities loom as large as addressing the root causes of climate change. That’s the case even if you don’t believe we’re facing a climate crisis—and more so if you do.

Dr. Jonathan Patz speaking at the American Medical Association. (photo: T Grudzinski/AMA)

This point was brought home to me recently by Dr. Jonathan Patz, a panelist in a discussion with the senior management of the American Medical Association (AMA) on the health implications of climate change. Dr. Modena Wilson, Health and Science Officer Emerita of the AMA and one of the session’s organizers, has described climate change as “the mother of all threats to human health.” As the discussion moderator, I pressed Patz on what he viewed as worse case health-related scenarios. But he would have none of that.

Patz certainly has the deep expertise to answer to my question. In addition to being a physician, he is director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin and, for 15 years, was a lead author for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (or IPCC) — the organization that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for their work on climate change.

But Patz refused to talk about worse cases until I allowed him to set the stage with the best-case scenarios. We’ve focused on the doom and gloom ad nauseum, he observed, and that hasn’t carried the day.

Don’t get distracted by polar bears, he said, the global climate crisis is the greatest health opportunity of our times. He pointed to prime examples in three industry sectors: energy, food and transportation.

Air pollution kills millions each year

Energy. Ambient air pollution from fossil-fuel-based energy generation already kills millions each year. According to The Lancet: “long-term exposure to ambient fine particle air pollution caused 4.2 million deaths and 103 million lost years of healthy life in 2015. This was 7.6% of total global mortality, making it the fifth-ranked global risk



Chunka Mui

Futurist and Innovation Advisor. I try to carry out Alan Kay’s exhortation that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”