One of the unfortunate aspects of this bizarre Presidential campaign has been the lack of attention to the truly important issues America faces. Not that sexual assault, bigotry and massive ignorance are unimportant, but between disclosures about Trump’s “groping,” his “scorched earth” attacks on pretty much everyone, and his increasingly obvious mental health issues, the Orange One has sucked up all the oxygen in the room, with the result that issues of enormous consequence have received little attention, and even less thoughtful discussion.
Earlier this month, I posted about Trump’s selection of “environmental experts” for his transition team–a group of denialists about the reality of climate change.
We are already experiencing the severe weather that we’ve been warned will accompany our new climate reality; hurricanes that pick up power from warming oceans, flooding in some regions, droughts in others. But it isn’t only weather and agriculture that should concern us.
I often quote my cousin, an eminent cardiologist whose own blog is devoted to providing accurate medical information and debunking what he aptly calls “snake oil.” He recently reminded me that there is a health dimension to climate change that is too often overlooked:
At this time, most thoughtful people acknowledge the reality of humanly generated climate change on our environment, but they often fail to understand the real threat this poses to human health in general.
Now, the American College of Physicians (ACP), one of our most respected medical institutions, has issued a sobering position paper on climate change and it effects on human health, including higher rates of respiratory and heat-related illness, increased prevalence of vector-borne and waterborne diseases, food and water insecurity, and malnutrition. Persons who are elderly, sick, or poor are especially vulnerable to these potential consequences, according to this group. The ACP also states its belief that it’s incumbent on all those in the health industry to play an active role in protecting human health and averting dire environmental outcomes.
This ACP publication emphasizes that climate change presents a “catastrophic risk” to human health over the next hundred years that may wipe out all of the health advances made over the previous 100 years. The average temperature on Earth has increased by almost 1 degree since 1889, and greenhouse gas emissions have increased by almost 50% from 2005 to 2011. It is predicted that by the end of the century, the Earth’s temperature may increase by 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice in the Arctic and Antarctic seas has melted at unprecedented rates and the water levels worldwide have risen by almost 7 inches over the last 100 years. The World Health Organization has predicted that climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year from 2030 to 2050 due to malnutrition, increased malaria, increased respiratory illness, heat-related illness, food issues due to crop losses, and increases in waterborne infectious diseases and vector-borne illness:
Their current recommendations include the following:
The entire health care community throughout the world must engage in environmentally sustainable practices that reduce carbon emissions.
Support efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
Educate the public, their colleagues, their community, and lawmakers about the health risks posed by climate change
As guardians of human health, we must assume a more active role in avoiding these disastrous consequences—if not for our own well-being, but for that for our children and all future generations! These efforts could well begin with how we all vote in the coming election!
My concern is not simply with the efforts of fossil fuel companies to stave off changes so that they can continue to profit, or with the fundamentalists (too many of whom are in Congress) who piously insist that God will take care of us.
My concern is that far too many of us arguably normal folks will react just like patients whose doctors tell them to quit smoking or start exercising– patients who know the doctor is right, but who lack the will to follow through.