A recent report from The Lancet, the world’s most widely read medical journal, along with recent reports from the U.S. Climate Assessment and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) all confirm what everyone has been screaming since thy kingdom come. Climate change is harming and killing us. Slowly, but surely.
The numbers are striking. The Lancet’s global research team reports that 157 million more vulnerable people experienced heat waves and attendant health risks in 2017 than in 2000. Pollution from particulate matter, a key component of wildfire smoke and vehicle exhaust, contributed to 2.9 million premature deaths in 2015 alone. Vector-borne disease, food shortages and mental-health impacts are becoming more prevalent and WILL continue to do so. The findings also confirm that people who did the least to create the problem are disproportionately affected by the consequences.
Our emergency-room colleagues recount devastating stories of children coughing and wheezing due to worsening asthma during the smoke pollution of this summer’s wildfires, and data support their experience. The U.S. Climate Assessment reports that “smoke events” from 2004-2009 were associated with a 7.2 percent increase in respiratory admissions for adults over 65 in the eastern Northwest. I work with populations that suffer from asthma and other allergy related conditions. I didn’t even know until recently that black women actually have the highest fatality rates when it comes to asthmatic deaths in the US. African Americans are actually three times more likely to die from asthma. That to me, is sickening to hear in 2018.
The good news? The Lancet confirms that climate change is also the biggest health opportunity of this century. Emerging research on “co-benefits” (actions that both reduce climate change and promote health) finds that renewable energy, cleaner transportation and smarter urban design can promote benefits of physical activity, clean our air and improve mental health all while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and creating a hopeful future for our children, which at this point, we don’t have a choice.
Historically, many issues have had to reach a tipping point to receive forceful, clear and unwavering support from our medical and research professionals. Firearm control, bicycle helmets and cigarette smoking are examples of important health issues that had to go through processing within our culture for our societies to collectively and unambiguously own the need to advocate on behalf of our communities.
The difference now is that time is not on our side. The problem becomes more pressing every day, and we are running out of time to make a difference for our families. For the sake of our patients and our families, present and future, we must leave fossil fuels — coal, oil and “natural” (fracked) gas — in the ground. It’s time for us to make this issue a priority and take bold approaches to reducing emissions. Our collective future depends on it.
Until next time tribe,