“For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.”
— John F. Kennedy, Commencement Address at The American University, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1963.
President Trump’s decision last week to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord received swift global criticism and condemnation, especially from American doctors who are already treating a growing number of patients harmed by more frequent and more severe heat waves and extreme weather events, vector-borne diseases like Lyme disease and Zika, prolonged and more severe pollen allergies, worsening air quality causing respiratory distress in infants and children and heart attacks in adults, and the psychological fallout of mental illness exacerbations. Pediatricians are particularly alarmed, reflected in this statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
“Climate change is an immediate threat to children in the United States and around the world, making President Trump’s decision today to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement a dangerous step backward to protecting public health. This action signifies a detrimental reversal in our country’s commitment to addressing global climate change. Our children, who are disproportionately vulnerable to the changing climate, will carry the weight of its consequences.
“According to the World Health Organization, more than 80% of the current health burden resulting from the changing climate occurs in children younger than 5 years old. Children breathe faster than adults, spend more time outside and have lungs that are still developing, meaning any environmental changes will have a more significant impact. For children who suffer from asthma, poor air quality can turn outdoor activity into a real risk to their health.
“Coupled with the Executive Order halting the Clean Power Plan, today’s decision and other recent actions taken by President Trump and his administration overlook the direct connection between the state of our environment and children’s health. As pediatricians, we urge our federal leaders to support strong policies that ensure clean, safe air for all children and families, no matter where they live; the future of communities in our country and across the globe depends on it.”
This statement from the American College of Physicians (internal medicine) shows that big-people doctors aren’t happy either:
“Climate change is real, is largely the result of human activity, and is already affecting our health. ACP is very concerned about the harmful health effects that climate change is having on our patients… Instead of withdrawing from commitments it made through the Paris agreement and rolling back regulations to reduce carbon emissions, the U.S. should be taking even more aggressive action now to protect the health of our community’s most vulnerable members—including our children, our seniors, people with chronic illnesses, and the poor—because our climate is already changing and people are already being harmed. We call on President Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, and for Congress, state and local governments, U.S. companies, physicians, hospitals, and others to do everything in their power to ensure that this country meets its obligations.”
The response from the respected, non-partisan American Lung Association was short but equally strong in its condemnation:
“Today’s announcement to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement puts President Trump on the wrong side of history. Climate change is already harming the health of people in the United States and worldwide through degraded air quality, heat waves, droughts, extreme storms, disease outbreaks, and more. Unchecked climate change is a global health crisis that threatens to reverse decades of health gains worldwide, with serious consequences for our children and generations to come.”
The newly-formed Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health issued a statement on behalf of its nearly half-million physician-members belonging to the AAP, ACP, American Academy of Family Practice (AAFP), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (AAAAI), American Geriatrics Society (AGS), and a half-dozen other professional medical organizations — in other words, doctors that you would entrust with the health of your children, your parents, and yourselves:
The Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health has issued the following statement in response to President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change is the wrong choice that puts Americans at unnecessary risk. Climate change is the greatest public health challenge of our time and harms the health and well-being of some of the most vulnerable citizens—especially the elderly and children.
We know that climate change is happening and is already harming the health of Americans and other people around the world. The nation’s pediatricians, internists, family physicians, obstetrician and gynecologists, geriatricians, allergists, and others, have come together to alert the country that climate change puts the health of millions of people at risk. It is affecting the health of Americans we see every day in our practices.
The Paris Agreement is science-based and emphasizes clean energy and pollution reduction, which will improve health immediately and is a crucial tool with the potential to reduce the odds of more dramatic harms to health down the road.
Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement will have consequences. Americans – doctors and patients alike – must be on guard against the health harms from climate change. Specifically, climate change leads to injuries and deaths due to extreme storms, reduced air quality associated with wildfires and/or allergens, severe heat waves, the spread of vector-borne diseases such as those carried by mosquitoes, adverse obstetric outcomes, and recurrent flooding with the tides due to rising sea levels. The most immediately vulnerable are children, pregnant women, those who work outdoors, people with chronic heart, lung, or mental health conditions, the elderly and people with limited financial resources.
The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, composed of 12 U.S. medical societies representing over half the physicians in the United States, launched recently with a mission to inform the public and policymakers about the harmful health effects of climate change, and about the immediate and long-term health benefits associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other preventive and protective measures. President Trump’s duty is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our people and our future. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement ignores that duty.
We are at a turning point as a nation and as a planet. Climate science is not political and the statements above are not partisan pronouncements. And it’s not complicated, either. I’m a doctor, not a climate scientist, but I’ve avidly studied the science which explains climate change, the health effects of pollution, and other environmental health topics for many years. If you are not convinced that aggressive action must be taken NOW to limit greenhouse gas pollution emitted by industries, businesses, and consumers, then it’s time to stop and do a little research on your own. (Start here for references. If you flat-out deny the reality of melting glaciers, collapsing ice shelves, and rising sea levels, then you’re out of luck — there is nothing I can do for you.)
What is clear to me is that every day we wait for our leaders in government to comprehend rather than deny the reality of climate change and take concerted actions to severely limit greenhouse gas emissions — and, as a result, improve the economy, national security, the environment, and public health — is another day wasted. In fact, it’s become all too clear — we are on our own.
More on climate change and health on The PediaBlog here.