Medical Societies Come Together on Harms of Climate Change

Megan Brooks

March 16, 2017

The American College of Physicians (ACP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and nine other medical societies have joined forces to raise public awareness and action against the harmful effects of climate change on the health of Americans.

In a report released today, the group called the Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health says "we are sounding the alarm that the ultimate danger of climate change is that it poses a danger to the health of every American now and in the future."

The report, Medical Alert! Climate Change Is Harming Our Health, outlines three specific types of harms from climate change:

  • Direct harms, such as injuries and deaths due to increasingly violent weather, asthma, and other lung diseases that are exacerbated by extremely hot weather, wildfires, and longer allergy seasons

  • The spread of disease through insects that carry infections such as Lyme disease, Zika virus, or West Nile virus and through contaminated food and water

  • The effects on mental health resulting from the damage climate change can do to society, such as increasing depression and anxiety

"Doctors in every part of our country see that climate change is making Americans sicker," Mona Sarfaty, MD, director of the consortium and professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said in a news release.

"Physicians are on the front lines and see the impacts in exam rooms. What's worse is that the harms are felt most by children, the elderly, Americans with low income or chronic illnesses, and people in communities of color."

The report combines research on the health effects of climate change, physician stories, and research-based evidence showing that reducing greenhouse gases improves heath and saves lives. It includes a map showing how climate change affects health in different regions of the country.

The consortium plans to send the report to members of Congress and to distribute the report more broadly to state leaders, businesses, and medical groups.

"The most important action we can take to protect our health is to reduce heat-trapping pollution by reducing energy waste and accelerating the inevitable transition to clean renewable energy," the report states.

"It's Happening Here"

The report draws on several peer-reviewed reports, including The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment, released in 2016 by the US Global Change Research Program.

"Doctors work to prevent smoking and help patients quit, because smoking harms health and increases the risk of cancer or lung disease. We see efforts to combat climate change in the same way: they will improve health today and reduce health risks down the road," ACP President Nitin Damle, MD, said in the release.

The ACP has developed a climate change toolkit that provides resources to help physicians reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in their own practices.

In addition to the ACP and the AAP, the other nine consortium members are the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, Immunology, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Preventive Medicine, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Geriatrics Society, the American Podiatric Medical Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the National Medical Association, and the Society of General Internal Medicine.

"Here's the message from America's doctors on climate change: it's not only happening in the Arctic Circle, it's happening here. It's not only a problem for us in 2100, it's a problem now. And it's not only hurting polar bears, it's hurting us," said Dr Sarfaty.

Medical Society Consortium. Medical Alert! Climate Change Is Harming Our Health. Published online March 15, 2017. Full text

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