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The Soapbox: Leaving no greenhouse gas behind

Cathy Orlando of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby relates a story of how her husband, an anaesthesiologist, figured a way to reduce Health Sciences North’s carbon footprint and save it money

Canadians are among the world's worst carbon emitters. We produce on average an equivalent of 14.2 tonnes of CO2 as of 2019. 

Flying in airplanes is a significant part of our carbon footprint.

In 2006, I stopped flying in airplanes for leisure trips to reduce my carbon footprint. In 2015, my youngest daughter, Sophia Mathur, was seven years old. Her older sisters went to Disney World at her age and they wanted her to have experience, too. So, I made an exception and agreed we should go.

I confess I was behaving like Grumpy the dwarf on the airplane ride to Disney. My husband, Sanjiv, an anaesthesiologist, had a brilliant idea to help me snap out of my grumpy state of mind. On the airplane ride he made a rough calculation of what would happen if he removed one anaesthetic gas from his practice.

He calculated that he could reduce his carbon footprint somewhere between 50 to 100 tonnes per year by removing Desflurane.

"Stop. Wait. What?" That's huge. My grumpiness was gone.

Sanjiv published his research and gave many presentations across Canada and the world. Most recently, on April 21, 2022, he presented this data Science North's Northern Med Talks. You can watch that here

Here is the science behind Sanjiv's research and how you can help save the climate and also save hospitals money, too.

Most surgeries use either Desflurane or Sevoflurane to provide anaesthesia. These volatile anaesthetic gases escape into the atmosphere after surgery. They are well-documented greenhouse gasses.

But Desflurane is 26.8 times more potent than Sevoflurane as a greenhouse gas.

As a way of comparison, using Desflurane for a seven-hour operation in one operating room is about the same as driving more than 2,000 km in an average small car in Canada, while using Sevoflurane is about the same as driving 45 km.

Health Sciences North removed Desflurane from the hospital’s formulary. After they made the change, the greenhouse gas emissions went down by 723 tonnes in 2020 compared to 2016. Of note, 723 tonnes is equivalent to driving a small car to the moon and back four times.

Unfortunately, the destructive anaesthetic gas, Desflurane, continues to be used.

With such a dramatic difference in carbon footprints, this is an ideal situation for pollution pricing. At the April 2022 price of $50 per tonne, the carbon price on a bottle of Desflurane would be $44.70, while the carbon price for Sevoflurane would be $2.47. 

Pricing pollution from volatile anaesthetics will force hospitals to eliminate the use of Desflurane. This will save hospitals money (Desflurane is more expensive), not compromise patient care, and significantly reduce the carbon footprint of operating rooms across Canada.

The recent IPCC data is very clear that there is only a narrow window of opportunity to avert climate catastrophe.

We must leave no greenhouse gas behind and you can help make sure this happens.

Citizens' Climate Lobby Canada has launched an online campaign where you can send the information above, minus the Disney story, to your MP.

Send a letter to your MP here.

Sudbury’s Cathy Orlando is the international outreach manager for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.