Former Vice President Al Gore has long been known as the leading voice on climate change. But even here, at the Climate & Health Meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta, where his audience is more than 200 climate and health advocates, those experts could barely keep up with the vice president’s pace as he ticked through hit after horrific hit to human health, all brought on by climate change. Air pollution, water scarcity, heat waves, vector-borne disease — all are increasing, at a rate even quicker than Gore could list them.
“It’s like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation,” he told the audience.
Gore is the keynote speaker and a co-organizer of the Climate & Health Meeting, a one-day convening on the ways human-caused climate change is affecting human health in the wake of a canceled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meeting on climate and health. The meeting is a collaboration between Gore, APHA, the Climate Reality Project, Harvard Global Health Institute, the University of Washington Center for Health and the Global Environment and Howard Frumkin, MD, DrPH, MPH, the former director of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The meeting is also supported by the Turner Foundation and other organizations.
In his keynote address, Gore rocketed through the many varied ways climate change is wreaking havoc on public health. He called on the late astronomer Carl Sagan’s classification of Earth as “a Goldilocks planet” — not too hot, not too cold; just right — but cautioned the public and environmental health advocates in the room that “we are using the atmosphere as a global sewer.”
Gore’s keynote address also touched on social determinants of health, noting that the poor, elderly, children and people of color are disproportionately burdened by the effects of climate change.
But there is cause for hope, Gore noted: U.S. goals for increasing solar and wind power have been met and exceeded, dozens of times over. And from 2013 to 2015, global carbon dioxide emissions have held fast — for the first time in the absence of an economic crisis, he said.
As APHA celebrates its Year of Climate Change and Health, the Climate & Health Meeting highlights both vulnerabilities and successes around the topic. Follow the livestream at www.apha.org/climate or on Twitter with #ClimateChangesHealth.