The White House unveiled a series of initiatives Tuesday to draw attention to the public health issues associated with climate change after America has seen the number of people diagnosed asthma more than double over the last three decades. Major U.S. companies are joining the cause to raise awareness and reduce the health impacts caused by smog, higher temperatures and longer allergy seasons.
Obama highlighted the initiatives Tuesday at a round-table event at Howard University Medical School Tuesday, joined by Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy.
In declaring April 6-12 as National Public Health Week, Obama said those most at risk of the harmful effects of climate change include children, the elderly, sick and poor. “We’ve got to do better in protecting our vulnerable families,” Obama said at the event, according to the Associated Press.
The science of climate and its effect on health is indisputable, the president said. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed rising rates to the effects of climate change, which have resulted in longer-lasting allergy seasons with higher levels of harmful allergens and irritants. Pollen is one of the major triggers for allergic asthma, the variant suffered by over half of all people diagnosed with asthma. Additionally, climate change is responsible for creating more severe wildfires that send more particulates into the air.
The CDC has also warned that higher temperatures will make heatstroke become a severe public health problem in cities, while extreme weather-related injuries and deaths are expected to rise across the country. In addition, shifting temperature and rainfall patterns in the U.S. are already increasing the spread of infectious diseases such as Dengue fever, Lyme disease, and chikungunya.
“This is not just a future threat — this is a present threat,” said Brian Deese, a senior adviser to the President. Deese cited a recent study by the American Thoracic Society that found seven out of 10 doctors reported climate change is contributing to more health problems among their patients.
Obama said spending on health — such as preventing asthma and infectious disease outbreaks — can save more money than it costs, as well as alleviate needless pain and suffering.
“Whether it’s promoting heart health through nutrition and physical activity or preventing disease outbreaks through vaccinations, prevention really is our goal, and that is true here with climate change,” added Murthy, who was confirmed by the Senate in December.
In partnership with the federal government, public and private entities have pledged to make health and climate-related data more easily available to the public. Google has agreed to donate 10 million man-hours to map out climate-related data on Google Earth, including visualizations of wildfires and oil flares over time. Microsoft will develop a prototype to detect infectious diseases before they reach the level of an outbreak. Additionally, Deans from 30 top medical, nursing, and public health schools — including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Yale — have pledged to train their students in the health impacts of climate change.
The emphasis on public health builds on the president’s blueprints to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by as much as 28% over the next decade. The plan will be outlined in the administration’s formal written submission ahead of the United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris this December.
Obama secured an ambitious joint-agreement with China last November to tackle climate change, acknowledging that the two countries combined are responsible for about 45% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The sweeping plan is a key pillar of Obama’s legacy on climate change and foreign policy, but without legislative support from the Republican-led Congress, it’s one that relies heavily on a series of executive actions. The most politically controversial measures call for the Environmental Protection Agency to place strict limits on carbon emissions from vehicles and coal plants, which would avert an estimated 130,000 asthma attacks and 2,800 heart attacks in the first year.
Obama’s unilateral moves on climate change are likely to become a hot-button 2016 issue. Nearly every major GOP presidential prospect has spoken out against the EPA regulations, calling them executive overreach and costly for business. Meanwhile the Democratic Party’s near-certain candidate Hillary Clinton has notably defended the action as one that “must be protected at all cost.”
Breathe easy and be well 🙂