Climate change is already harming Americans’ health, a report released Wednesday by the Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health, which represents more than half of the country’s doctors, found.
“Climate change is already causing problems in communities in every region of our nation, and from a doctor’s perspective, it’s harming our health,” said the consortium.
The report pointed out that Americans may not be aware of health harms attributed to climate change, which is backed up by a 2014 study by Yale University and George Mason University. Few Americans are aware that some groups, such as children, the elderly or the poor, are more susceptible to harm associated to climate change. The 2014 study also found only one in four Americans can name one way climate change can harm a person’s health.
“Most Americans understand that climate change is real and are concerned about it,” the doctors said in the report. “But most still see climate change as a faraway threat, in both time and place, and as something that threatens the future of polar bears but not necessarily people.”
How Climate Change Harms Americans
Harms caused by climate change include heat-related sickness, worsening chronic illnesses, injuries and deaths from weather events, air pollution, infectious diseases spread by mosquitoes and ticks, illnesses from contaminated food and water and mental health problems, the consortium said.
“Public health professionals know this too, because they’re seeing increasing rates of health problems associated with climate change in their communities,” the report said.
Climate change can harm the health of any American, especially children, pregnant women, the elderly, the poor, student athletes and those with chronic illnesses and allergies.
For example, heat illnesses are a leading cause of death and disability for young athletes, with about 9,000 high school athletes treated for heat-related illnesses annually. Climate change can also cause droughts and wildfires, which can lead to heart attacks, respiratory infections and asthma.
The report comes after 2016 was officially declared the hottest year on record by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ) and the World Meteorological Organization ( WMO ). Last year’s record surpassed 2015 and 2014 numbers, making it the third consecutive year of record-breaking numbers.
Global warming also heightens the risk of diseases via mosquitoes and ticks.
“Across the country, doctors are seeing more patients struck ill by serious diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile fever,” Dr. Nitin Damle, President of the American College of Physicians (ACP) said in the report. “Because of the changing climate and the spread of vectors, we expect that Americans will continue to face new diseases and familiar diseases in new places.”
Last December, researchers from the University of Liverpool said the weather phenomenon El Niño and climate change fueled the spread of the Zika virus in South America, which has been linked to birth defects and neurological complications, like microcephaly. Thousands of Zika cases have been reported in the U.S. and U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The consortium mapped out how health is affected across regions in the country:
Taking Action On Climate Change
The doctors say the most important action to protect Americans’ health is to reduce heat-trapping pollution by decreasing energy waste and transitioning to clean renewable energy, which could help clean up our air and water.
“Unless we take concerted action, these harms to our health are going to get much worse,” the consortium said. “The sooner we take action, the more harm we can prevent, and the more we can protect the health of all Americans.”
President Donald Trump has denied climate change and previously said it was a “hoax” invented by the Chinese. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said last week he does not believe carbon dioxide emissions are a primary contributor to climate change, while scientific evidence suggests otherwise.
However, the majority of American people say environmental regulations are worth the cost, a December 2016 Pew Research Center survey found. Fifty-nine percent of Americans say stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth it, while 34 percent say laws would affect jobs and hurt the economy.