ACP’s Position Paper on Climate Change and Health

In case you missed it, last week in conjunction with Earth Day the ACP released a position paper on the impact of climate change on human health.  By now, you are familiar with the details: fossil fuel consumption, clearing of forests at an unsustainable rate, power plant emissions contribute to greenhouse gases, resulting in increased global temperatures.  Potential health effects of the rising temperatures include higher rates of respiratory and heat-related illness, elevated prevalence of vector-borne diseases, and increased food insecurity and malnutrition related to poor growing conditions.  This is compounded by the more severe weather which leads to immediate loss of life.  The WHO acknowledges climate change as one of the greatest health risks of the 21st century.  In 2012, they estimated as many as 7 million people died from air pollution-related diseases, primarily from the products of combustion of fossil fuels.  Climate change is also anticipated to cause 250,000 more deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 from malaria, diarrhea, heat stress and under-nutrition. (1)

The position paper reiterates that taking action now to reduce greenhouse gases will have a significant impact on health.  Individual actions, such as walking or cycling instead of motor vehicle use, have individual health benefits as well in terms of cardiovascular fitness and reduction of obesity.  It issues a challenge of sorts to physicians to adopt lifestyle changes that have a favorable environmental impact and to educate patients and the public on the health consequences of climate change.

There will continue to be those who deny the existence of global warming.  As of 2015, only 8 (of 278) congressional Republicans were on record as accepting that we, as humans, could be responsible for climate change. (2)  This is unfortunate.  One could say this is akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burns (although the good people at History.com have debunked that as legend).  It is doubtful that our voting populace will turn the 2016 election, and congressional elections that follow, into a referendum on science.  Perhaps the large (non-elected) segment of the U.S. that does not engage in such irrational anti-scientific thought is hoping their elected officials will come to their collective senses.  But comments like this: “I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change. It’s not proven by any stretch of the imagination. It’s far more likely that it’s sunspot activity or just something in the geologic eons of time” from Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, should make you understand that such a coming-to of senses will be improbable. (3)

But I digress.  Please review the ACP position paper, particularly the expanded background and rationale.  If you didn’t understand the importance of addressing climate change before, you hopefully will afterwards.

(1) http://www.who.int/globalchange/mediacentre/news/country-profiles/en/ accessed April 25, 2016

(2) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/04/opinion/republicans-climate-change-denial-denial.html?_r=0 accessed April 26, 2016

(3) http://www.jsonline.com/multimedia/video/?bcpid=13960334001&bctid=590004292001 accessed April 26, 2016

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