As a physician-led advocacy group, we consider it our professional responsibility to inform the public and our policy makers of the devastating human health impacts of the climate crisis.
Recognizing the Connection
The connection between extremes of temperature and adverse impacts on human health has long been recognized. A 1976 study showed a link between deaths from stroke and heart attack and abnormally hot or cold temperature in 32 American cities. Many of the predictions regarding the devastating health impacts from climate change made years ago in early studies are now fact. The disproportionate impact of this public health crisis on low income communities and communities of color is increasingly clear.
Extreme Weather Events and Health
We experience the health effects of extreme weather in the uptick in cases of heat related illness, asthma, heart attack, kidney dysfunction and stroke during extended heat waves. Climate change and its effects, such as extreme heat and intense storms, are associated with increased rates of suicide, anxiety and depression. The rise in night-time temperatures has been associated with increased deaths due to stroke and respiratory disease.
Climate Change and Infections
Mosquito and tick-borne diseases, including Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, West Nile and dengue have increased significantly with the changing climate due to the expanded range of the insect vectors that carry them and the longer seasons these vectors are active. Diarrheal illness is amplified by extreme weather events like hurricanes because heavy flooding leads to storm sewage overflows that contaminate water supplies with toxic chemicals and bacteria.
Other Health Impacts
Allergies are more common and more severe, owing to longer allergy seasons and effects of higher carbon dioxide levels on increasing pollen production. Epic forest fires due to extreme drought are leading to increased lung disease due to inhalation of toxic fumes and particulates. Crop destruction and habitat destruction following drought is leading to food insecurity.
Deaths From Climate Change Are Preventable
Deaths from climate change are not inevitable: they result from the lack of a robust, concerted effort to address this public health emergency. Although those deaths aren’t documented in our newspapers like deaths due to COVID-19, 350,000 died in the United States last year due to air pollution from fossil fuels, a key driver of climate change. But the number of deaths due to climate change far exceeds that due to air pollution alone and that number grows daily: deaths from heat stroke, heart attack, asthma — the list goes on.
Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change
We can prepare for climate change: we can protect our estuaries and refrain from building on our 100 year floodplains so our marshlands are there to protect us from flooding instead of being converted into concrete deserts.
We can eliminate subsidies that unfairly bolster the market for oil and gas. We can improve public transportation and phase out cars with internal combustion engines, so that transportation is more efficient and less polluting. We can source our power grid from renewable energies like wind and solar power. Transitioning to renewable energy sources and enforcing our clean air regulations will also decrease pollution.
As renewable energy continues to become less expensive to install and maintain, it will continue to outcompete fossil fuel infrastructure, which is becoming a “stranded asset,” an investment that no longer has value. By not building new fossil fuel infrastructure that is not needed, our communities will be healthier and economically more robust.
Decreasing Air Pollution Decreases Mortality
The good news: studies show that if we take action and reduce air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, not only do we slow climate change–we see enormous benefits to human health in a matter of weeks. Along with the health benefits, we realize huge economic benefits as well: the cost savings due to fewer hospital visits and preventable illness.
GREATER BOSTON PSR: WHAT WE DO
At Greater Boston PSR, we:
- Educate the public about the fossil fuel driven climate crisis
- Support state and city projects to transition away from oil and gas to low carbon clean energy solutions and oppose the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and federal and state subsidies for polluting fossil fuels
- Collaborate with environmental justice organizations to reduce exposure to harmful air, water and solid pollution and champion stricter air and water pollution standards — and ensure that current standards are equitably enforced
To ensure a just, rapid transition from a fossil fuel economy to a low-carbon future powered by clean energy with cleaner air and water for everyone.
OUR VOICE IS IMPORTANT
The voice of health professionals is essential to advocating for policies to lower carbon emissions, reduce air pollution and protect health. Since climate change is driving a cascade of public health challenges, displacing communities and taking lives across the United States and around the world, there is an urgent need for us to use our power of advocacy to promote change.
We can advocate in three ways: first, by showing the unacceptable harms of the status quo; second, by naming gas, oil and coal as key drivers of climate change and calling for plans to retire them; and finally, by championing effective incentives to spur the transition to renewable energy sources.
We in the medical and public health community can articulate the connection between the burning of fossil fuels and the health impacts of climate disruption. We can also call out the disproportionate health burden on low income communities and communities of color that results from climate change.
Our efforts will make our communities and our planet healthier.
Climate Change Issues
Op-ed in the CommonWealth Beacon by GBPSR’s Dr. Brita Lundberg.
Op-ed by GBPSR’s Philip Landrigan, MD; Sydney Engel; and Brita Lundberg, MD.
Article featuring input from GBPSR board chair, Brita Lundberg, MD.