Medical and public health groups warn of threats posed by climate change

“The health, safety and well-being of millions of people in the U.S. have already been harmed by human-caused climate change, and health risks in the future are dire without urgent action to fight climate change,” according to a report issued June 24 by 74 medical and public health groups.

AP’s Elana Schor reported that the groups are pressing elected officials and presidential candidates to “meet and strengthen U.S. commitments” under the 2015 United Nations climate agreement from which Trump has vowed to withdraw. They’re also pushing for some form of carbon pricing [emphasis added]...and “a plan and timeline for reduction of fossil fuel extraction in the U.S.”

The American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association are among the respected organizations that teamed up to urge action. Another of the 74, the American College of Physicians, recently told the House Natural Resources Committee: 

“Because physicians are on the front lines of patient care, they are witnessing – here and now – the harmful health effects that climate change can and does have on the human body.

“These harmful effects include: higher rates of respiratory and heat-related illness, increased prevalence of vector-borne and waterborne diseases, food and water insecurity, and malnutrition. 

…... “As climate change worsens, an increase in global temperature and frequency of heat waves will raise the risk of heat exhaustion... Asthma and other chronic lung conditions will be exacerbated by increased particulate matter and ground level ozone in the atmosphere. Exposure to infectious disease from vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks has and will continue to escalate. An increase in heavy downpours and flooding in America and the world has already, and will continue to, lead to an increase in waterborne diseases.”

The efforts of these major groups follow the findings released in December by the Lancet Countdown—a coalition of international research organizations collaborating with the World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization. The group tracks the health impacts of—and government responses to—climate change.

“It affects everyone around the world—every single person, every single population. No country is immune,” says Nick Watts, executive director of the Lancet Countdown and one of the report’s many co-authors, as reported by Tanya Lewis in Scientific American

The report said that warmer temperatures have increased the geographical ranges of organisms that spread dengue fever, malaria and cholera. 

Climate change also threatens food security. Our planet still produces more than enough food for the world, but 30 countries have seen crop yields decline as a result of extreme weather, the report found.

June’s record-setting European heat wave was another reminder of the health threat posed by extreme weather. The Guardian reported that it was the hottest June since 1880, both in Europe and around the world, according to separate data released on Tuesday by the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The heat wave was made at least five times more likely by climate change, scientists have calculated.

“This is a strong reminder again that climate change is happening here and now. It is not a problem for our kids only,” said Dr Friederike Otto, of the University of Oxford, one of the scientists behind the new analysis.

The hottest summers in Europe in the last 500 years have all come in the last 17 years, The New York Times’ Somini Sengupta reported. “Critically, several nighttime minimum temperature records were also broken,” she wrote. “A series of extremely hot nights can be lethal, because it deprives the body of the recovery period that normally comes after sunset.” In Hamburg, 141 runners collapsed during a half-marathon.

Meantime, two years of drought in Chennai, an Indian city on the Bay of Bengal, has left reservoirs and lakes parched and wells dry. Residents line up as early as 4 a.m. in hopes of filling buckets at a public pump.

“The daily travails of millions of people in Chennai are a harbinger of things to come for the country, warn experts, who say India faces a looming water crisis as its population grows, urbanization intensifies and global temperatures rise,” wrote Niha Masih and Joanna Slater in The Washington Post.

Then there is the opposite threat. NPR reported that torrential rains have created dangerous conditions in southwestern Japan, prompting evacuation orders for more than 1.1 million people in the Kyushu region. "Please take action to protect your lives," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday, according to The Japan Times.

We agree with the 74 medical and public health groups: It’s high time the U.S. put an honest price on carbon.