Doctors warn climate change is harming our health

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Climate change isn’t just happening in the Arctic Circle and Antarctica where more ice is melting year after year. Its impact is being felt right here at home, and it’s posing a threat to the health of millions of people globally, say doctors representing 11 top U.S. medical societies. They are joining forces in Washington, D.C., to speak out about the health risks posed by climate change.

They announced the formation of a new organization, the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health - made up of family physicians, pediatricians, obstetricians, allergists, internists and other medical experts. More than half of all U.S. doctors are members of one of the participating groups, which include the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

They’ll also present a new report, “Medical Alert! Climate Change is Harming Our Health,” which includes scientific evidence and accounts from doctors who see climate change exacerbating a wide range of health issues, including:

“More than 97 percent of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening,” the report states.

“It’s not only hurting polar bears, it’s hurting us,” said Dr. Mona Sarfaty, the director of the new consortium and a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She is also director of the Center for Climate Change Communication there.

Primary care physicians and doctors in many specialty areas are reporting that climate change is making their patients sicker. Yet, they said, a recent poll showed only 32 percent of Americans could name a specific way in which global warming is harming human health.

Carbon dioxide levels in the air are increasing and air and ocean temperatures are warming, contributing to more frequent and extreme droughts, wildfires, and flooding, Sarfaty explained. In turn, she said doctors are seeing an uptick in heat-related illnesses; worsening chronic conditions such as asthma; injuries and deaths from extreme weather like floods; infectious diseases spread by increasing populations of mosquitoes and ticks (including those that spread Lyme disease); illnesses stemming from contaminated food and water; and mental health problems like aggression and anxiety.

Certain groups of people are especially vulnerable to the health effects of climate shifts, including children, student athletes, pregnant women, the elderly, low-income families, and people with chronic illnesses, the report said.

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