Gina McCarthy

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announces findings from the “Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change” at its U.S. launch in Washington, D.C.

“Climate change is real, it’s happening today more quickly than we ever thought, and there are serious consequences. Time is of the essence,” said Gina McCarthy, former EPA administrator, in her introduction to yesterday’s U.S. launch of the 2018 report of the “Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change” in Washington, D.C.

The report is a global, independent, interdisciplinary research collaboration between 27 leading academic institutions, the United Nations and intergovernmental agencies. It provides critical findings and recommendations on the relationship between public health and climate change to help inform and accelerate a response locally, nationally and globally. The U.S. brief, co-produced by APHA, draws some of the most nationally relevant themes of the global report with U.S.-specific data.

Key findings of this year’s report include:

  • Trends in climate change impacts, exposures and vulnerabilities show an unacceptably high risk for current and future health.
  • A lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens human lives and the health systems on which they depend.
  • The nature and scale of the response to climate change will determine the health of nations for centuries to come.
  • Ensuring a widespread understanding of climate change as a central public health issue is crucial to accelerating the response.

The Lancet Countdown report builds on the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report issued in October and on the fourth congressionally mandated “National Climate Assessment” released by the Trump administration last week. Responding in a statement to the NCA, Georges Benjamin, executive director of APHA, called climate change “a threat to our survival and the public health challenge of our lifetime.”

He reiterated his call to action at the Lancet Countdown launch. “We need to move forward with policies like the Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions, provide resources to state and local health departments to address the health impacts of climate change, muster the political will to act on climate now. This is a civil rights issue.”

Moderator Surili Patel, deputy director of the APHA Center for Public Health Policy, connected APHA’s climate change and health work to the report and to the association’s new Center for Climate, Health and Equity. “APHA has researched and reported on the environmental impacts on our health since 1923. We are no stranger to this space,” Benjamin elaborated.

“For over a decade we’ve been looking closely at the intersection of climate change and health. And we know that the health risks of climate change are not experienced equally. Older adults, children, communities of color, low-income communities are particularly vulnerable. There is no dedicated center that looks at climate, health and equity. APHA aims to change that.”

Lancet Countdown report authors, emergency medicine physicians Jeremy Hess and Renee Salas, spoke about the findings, the climate change and health connection, challenges and opportunities for action on mitigation and adaptation.

Lancet Countdown“Climate change is the biggest public health threat of the 21st century and one of the greatest opportunities for action,” said Hess, speaking on the global report. “Health professionals are trusted messengers who can provide patients, other professionals and the public with reliable information needed to effect change. We don’t have a national adaptation plan, but we do have local public health solutions.”

“There is a personal story behind every statistic in this report — the child with asthma exacerbated by California wildfires, the climate refugee from hurricane-torn Puerto Rico, the farm worker in Florida with heat stroke,” said Salas, speaking on the U.S. brief. “This report on 41 indicators across five domains gives us the data we need to predict and plan for extreme heat, severe weather, intensifying wildfires, vector- and water-borne disease and more.”

A panel of experts, including Benjamin and moderated by Vann Newkirk, staff writer at The Atlantic, focused on those most vulnerable to the health effects of climate change in the U.S. and discussed ways forward. “We must move policymakers and practitioners to act when climate change is not in the news,” said Ashish Jha, dean for global strategy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

“Armed with the latest information, clinicians can appeal to their state legislators on behalf of those uniquely vulnerable to the health effects of climate change — those, like our children, who have no voice,” said Samantha Ahdoot, chair of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action and pediatrician with Pediatric Associates of Alexandria.

“Extreme heat has contributed to the loss of approximately 1.1 billion labor hours in the U.S. between 2000 and 2017. We have to change our system of agriculture to protect the health of our workers and to reduce carbon emissions,” said Jeannie Economos, coordinator for the Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project of the Farmworker Association of Florida.

As McCarthy said in her opening remarks, “We must think of climate action not as something we do for the planet but as something we do for ourselves and our families, for health and equity. And if health can’t drive change, then I don’t know what can.”

The global report is available here: http://www.lancetcountdown.org/. The U.S. brief is available at https://www.lancetcountdownus.org/, where you can also watch a recording of the U.S. launch event.