Medical Societies Decry Trump's Ditching Paris Climate Accord

June 05, 2017

Using words such as a "dangerous step backwards" and a "rejection of science-based decision-making," a phalanx of medical societies is denouncing President Donald Trump's decision on June 1 to withdraw from the Paris climate-change accord and pursue a new accord.

The groups, ranging from the American College of Physicians (ACP) to the American Thoracic Society (ATS), agree that greenhouse emissions — which the nonbinding Paris Agreement seeks to reduce — are changing the climate with potentially catastrophic consequences for human health. These medical societies cite dangers such as more extreme storms and heat waves, degraded air quality, coastal flooding, and the spread of vector-borne diseases.

At least one medical society, however, applauds Trump's decision, as does one of its members, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, MD.

"I think it's a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful thing that he did," said Jane Orient, MD, a spokesperson for the ultra-conservative, libertarian-leaning Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), which disputes the science supporting the Paris Agreement. The agreement, Dr Orient told Medscape Medical News, "is the first step in subjecting the whole world to a global energy rationing regime that will hurt the poorest people in the world the worst."

The White House stated that the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement — signed by 195 nations — was an example of Trump's fulfilling his campaign promise to put America first. According to the administration, the voluntary commitment by the United States to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025 would drain $3 trillion from the economy by 2040 and wipe out millions of jobs, including many in the coal industry that Trump wants to revive. In contrast, China would be allowed to increase its emissions through 2030. And even if all the countries that signed the agreement hit their emission-reduction targets, "the impact on the climate would be negligible."

Children Disproportionately Vulnerable, Says AAP

Trump's rejection of the Paris Agreement met with swift disapproval from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health (MSCCH), which consists of 12 associations. His decision "is the wrong choice that puts Americans at unnecessary risk," said MSCCH Director, Mona Sarfaty, MD, MPH, in a news release. "Climate change is the greatest public health challenge of our time."

MSCCH members are the ACP, the American Academy of Family Physicians; the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP); the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; the National Medical Association; the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma. and Immunology; the American College of Preventive Medicine; the American Podiatric Medical Association; the American Geriatrics Society; the Society of General Internal Medicine; the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine; and the American Association of Community Psychiatrists.

Several member societies put out their own individual statements. The decision to withdraw from the agreement is "a dangerous step backward to protecting public health," said AAP President Fernando Stein, MD. "Our children, who are disproportionately vulnerable to the changing climate, will carry the weight of its consequences." And ACP President Jack Ende, MD, lamented that "without US leadership, achieving the voluntary targets agreed to by the 195 countries that signed the accord will be far more difficult."

The ATS, which does not belong to the MSCCH, said it is "dismayed" by the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. In a news release, ATS President Marc Moss, MD, called Trump's decision "a rejection of science-based leadership."

"Multiple surveys of the ATS membership," said Dr Moss, "make it clear that climate change is having a direct impact on patient care."

"The Climate Is Always Changing"

A minority view in the medical profession on climate change comes from the AAPS, which has 3000 to 5000 dues-paying members. Articles on its website maintain that there is no scientific consensus about human-caused global warming,  question the evidence for alarming predictions in medical journals about the health consequences of climate change, and assert that the "attack on coal will not save lives."

Contrary to what federal agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) report, Dr Orient said the world has not been warming over the last 40 years. However, she allows for the concept of climate change.

"The climate has always been changing, and it always will," Dr Orient said. "Humanity has some effect. Probably the biggest is from land use. Carbon dioxide has an effect, but it's quite minor.

"Climate change has always affected human health. Freezing cold causes many more deaths than heat waves."

Dr Orient is suspicious of climate change data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, claiming that "they are fraudulently changing it." She also doesn't put much stock in the climate-change conclusions reached by other medical societies.

"They have no expertise in this field," she said. "They're just rubberstamping the same old stuff. None of these organizations are advocating for the welfare of their physicians and their patients. They have a political agenda."

Dr Price, Trump's HHS secretary and the most well-known member of the AAPS, expresses similar views. They are not entirely apparent in a statement he issued on June 1 that described the Paris Agreement as a "bad deal for the American people" and applauded Trump's leadership and actions. However, in a 2010 statement on federal efforts to regulate carbon dioxide, Dr Price referred to the "allegedly 'settled science' of global warming." And in his Senate confirmation hearing in January, he sounded a lot like Dr Orient.

"The climate is always changing," said Dr Price. "It's continuously changing. The question, from a scientific standpoint, is what effect does human behavior and human activity have on that, and what we can do to mitigate that.

"I believe that's a question that needs to be studied and evaluated."

Medscape Medical News asked HHS to elaborate on Dr Price's views on climate change but did not receive a response.

Follow Robert Lowes on Twitter @LowesRobert


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