Quantcast

Surgeon General's Warning: We Must Act on Climate

Climate

Climate change is a serious threat to public health, particularly for pregnant women, children, communities of color and low-income people, a government report issued Monday has warned.

The report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment, finds that rising temperatures in the coming years will bring along with them the increased risk of:

  • death from heat stroke, particularly in the summer months;

  • chronic and acute respiratory issues;

  • vector-borne illnesses like the West Nile virus and Lyme disease, as well as the new emergence of new pathogens;

  • chemical toxins in the food chain;

  • and mental health consequences of being exposed to climate disasters—among a litany of other risks.

"Every American is vulnerable to the health impacts associated with climate change," White House Science Adviser John Holdren said Monday. "Some are more vulnerable than others."

In particular, the report finds, those facing the highest risk are pregnant women, children, communities of color, the elderly, people who work outdoors, those with disabilities or preexisting medical conditions, immigrants and low-income people.

"I don't think we have seen something like this before where we have a force that has such a multitude of impacts," said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, comparing the effects to the polio epidemic. However, he said, polio was cured through a vaccine—which does not exist for climate change.

"There is not one single source we can target," he said. "As far as history is concerned this is a new kind of threat that we are facing."

The report was produced by eight government agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It comes just ahead of the April 22 meeting between world leaders in New York, where they are expected to formally sign the landmark climate agreement finalized in Paris in December.

EPA director Gina McCarthy said the report aimed to show that climate change is "not just about glaciers and polar bears—it's about the health of families and our kids."

"Climate change endangers our health by affecting our food and water sources, the air we breathe and the weather we experience," McCarthy said. "It will exacerbate certain health effects that already exist and create new ones."

The report also predicts that extreme heat could cause 11,000 more premature deaths a year by 2030 than previously predicted.

Bottom line, said Murthy, "If we want to safeguard the health of current and future generations, we have to address climate change."

Avoiding all the risks outlined in the report will be impossible, said Holdren, as "climate change is already underway and no matter what we do it cannot be stopped overnight. But there is a huge difference between the magnitude if we fail to act ... and if we take the actions set out in the Climate Action Plan and the Paris climate agreement."

Climate change "is a pervasive problem with many dimensions of impacts," Holdren said, "which together I think make it the most serious threat we face."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Mark Ruffalo: TPP Would Fuel Climate Chaos and Empower Corporate Polluters

Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft File Amicus Brief in Support of the Clean Power Plan

U.S. and China to Sign Paris Climate Agreement on Earth Day

Climate Model Predicts Melting of West Antarctic Ice Sheet Could Double Sea Level Rise

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Mark Wilson / Getty Images News

Ethics investigations have been opened into the conduct of senior Trump appointees at the nation's top environmental agencies.

The two investigations focus on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler and six high-ranking officials in the Department of Interior (DOI), The Hill reported Tuesday. Both of them involve the officials' former clients or employers.

"This is demonstrative of the failures at the very top of this administration to set an ethical tone," Campaign Legal Center Ethics Counsel Delaney Marsco told The Washington Post of the DOI investigation. "When people come to work for government, they're supposed to work on behalf of the public. It's a betrayal of the public trust when senior political appointees seem to give privileged access to their former employers or former clients."

Read More Show Less
Cigarette butt litter. Tavallai / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Dipika Kadaba

We've known for more than 50 years that smoking cigarettes comes with health hazards, but it turns out those discarded butts are harmful for the environment, too. Filtered cigarette butts, although small, contain dozens of chemicals, including arsenic and benzene. These toxins can leach into the ground or water, creating a potentially deadly situation for nearby birds, fish and other wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Thanasis Zovoilis / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Infants less than a year old should not be exposed to electronic screens, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

By Wenonah Hauter

Five years ago this week, an emergency manager appointed by then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made the devastating decision to save money by switching Flint's water supply over from Detroit's water system to the Flint River. Seen as a temporary fix, the new water supply was not properly treated. High levels of lead leached from the old pipes, poisoning a generation of Flint's children, and bacteria responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease killed more than a dozen residents.

Read More Show Less
Los Angeles-Long Beach, California is listed as the nation's smoggiest city. Pixabay

Seven million more Americans lived in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution between 2015 and 2017 than between 2014 and 2016, and climate change is partly to blame, Time reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Kissing bug. Pavel Kirillov / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that the kissing bug, which can transmit a potentially deadly parasite, has spread to Delaware, ABC News reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
"Take the pledge today." Screenshot / StopFoodWasteDay.com

Did you know that more than a third of food is wasted or thrown away every year? And that only 25 percent of it would be enough to feed the 795 million undernourished people in the world? That's why today is Stop Food Waste Day, a chance to reflect on what you can do to waste less of the food you buy.

Stop Food Waste Day is an initiative of food service company Compass Group. It was launched first in the U.S, in 2017 and went global the year after, making today it's second worldwide celebration.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Berries are among the healthiest foods you can eat.

Read More Show Less