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Climate Change, Government, Health Disparities, Inequality, Obama, Politics, Public Health, Public Policy, Social Justice, Society

Climate Change And The Collective Responsibility Of Public Health

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Asthma, allergies, heat stroke, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and other sicknesses carried by mosquitoes and ticks are among the long and growing list of maladies made worse by climate change.

How?

Higher temperatures mean more of the smog that aggravates asthma. Warmer climate lengthens pollen season, working hardship on those with allergies. If temperatures continue to rise, by midcentury we’ll double the number of people who die from extreme heat each summer in our largest cities. And warm, moist conditions that extend the range of mosquitoes and ticks also expand the reach of diseases they carry.

These are real health issues that impose real costs.

Premature deaths, sick days lost from school and work, medication and treatment — all told, these are costing us billions of dollars per year, by the most conservative measures, in addition to the very human toll this takes on our families and quality of life.

But we don’t have to sit idly by and pass this growing danger on to our children when we can do something about it now. That’s why President Obama called for action this week to address this widening threat. He’s directed the Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help.

Near term, the president wants to do three big things.

First, pull together what we know in a national database that draws the links between what we’re doing to our climate and what we’re doing to our health.

Second, share the lessons learned by private, academic, and government efforts at the state and local levels so we can build on the progress we’re already making to address the emerging health challenges of climate change.

And finally, create a toolkit to help doctors and nurses better understand the kinds of conditions we know threaten the health of our seniors, children, people who work outside, and those already battling heart disease, respiratory ailments, diabetes, kidney troubles, or other chronic maladies exacerbated by climate chaos.

Longer term, President Obama is determined to take real action to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change by reducing the harmful carbon pollution that’s driving this widening scourge.

We’re getting better gas mileage from our cars and trucks, reducing our carbon footprint per driven mile. We’re cleaning up the dirty power plants that make up 40 percent of our carbon pollution nationwide. And we’re investing in efficiency, so we do more with less waste, and getting more power from the wind and sun.

Whether these positive trends continue is up to us. We are at a substantive crossroads, with the health of future populations in our hands and a collective responsibility to protect our fellow citizens.

While all of us are paying a price for climate change, some are bearing a greater burden. The first to suffer, and those who suffer most, are often our most vulnerable citizens and the low-income people and communities of color living on the front lines of environmental degradation.

Naturally, there are those who think the problem will take care of itself if we just ignore it long enough. A brief glance through the history books, however, tells us that this approach rarely works out in the end. With a clear path forward, choosing inaction is a conscious choice to fail at the fundamental test of a society — that is, how we provide for our weakest and most vulnerable.

So let’s answer the president’s call this week to help each other cope with the health impacts of climate change, then let’s strike back, long-term, against the central environmental challenge of our time. Let’s shoulder this one together.

Won’t you join me?

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"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge." -- Carl Sagan

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