Georges C. Benjamin, MD, at the House Budget Committee hearing on climate change.

Georges C. Benjamin, MD, at the House Budget Committee hearing on climate change.

Testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Budget yesterday, Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the the American Public Health Association, spoke of “the serious public health threat we face from climate change.”

“As a physician, I believe there is hope. We can treat this, but time is not on our side,” he said. Benjamin proposed that “Congress and the administration must take steps now to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gases and funding public health agencies to protect our nation from the health threats associated with climate change.”

Benjamin gave testimony with four other expert witnesses, at “The Cost of Climate Change: From Coasts to Heartland, Health to Security” hearing on July 24. This was the second budget hearing examining the costs and impacts of climate change and looked at implications for coastal communities, agricultural economies, public health and national security.

“We just finished a week of extreme heat across most of the U.S. in which six people died,” Benjamin said in his testimony. “Extreme heat causes more deaths in this country than any other weather-related threat, and these events are only increasing – by 100-fold at mid-century, according to one study.”

He detailed the human and financial cost of increasing floods, droughts, wildfires, severe storms, degraded air quality and higher pollen concentrations, water pollution, food contamination, wider-ranging vector-borne diseases and more. “Climate-sensitive populations with limited resources to adapt to climate change will experience a disproportionately greater adverse health impact,” he noted.

Georges C. Benjamin, MD, gives expert testimony on the public health cost of climate change.

Georges C. Benjamin, MD, gives expert testimony on the public health cost of climate change.

Another witness, Rear Admiral Lower Half Ann C. Phillips, spoke on behalf of her role fighting coastal flooding and storms as special assistant to the governor of Virginia for coastal adaptation and protection. She reviewed the cost of flood prevention and insurance, disaster relief and recovery and said, “Even with strong state leadership, we can’t do this alone. Climate resilience is one of the United States’ greatest, most immediate needs. Clime and tide wait for no man.”

Stefani Millie Grant, senior manager for external affairs and sustainability at Unilever, highlighted the company’s programs to help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change. She advocated for greater federal funding to help farmers operate in a healthier, more sustainable way and to support farm resiliency that protects the food system on which we all rely.

Rear Admiral Upper Half David. W. Titley, PhD, affiliate professor of meteorology and of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University, talked about climate change as a national security challenge and threat multiplier. He advocated an “Apollo-scale program” to decarbonize the economy by mid-century, saying, “It will be hard, but so is going to the moon.”

Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath, concluded the witness testimony by urging Congress to develop and advance conservative policies that accelerate clean energy innovation. “Melting sea ice is opening the Arctic to increased competition with Russia and China for natural resources and access to sea routes,” he said. “We need to invest in market-based climate solutions.”

Committee questions ranged from both sides of the political aisle, but as Rear Admiral Titley said in his testimony, “The ice does not care who has control of the House or Senate or who is in the White House. It just melts.” A transcript of the hearing was entered into the Congressional record, and a recording of the proceedings is available here.

For more resources and information about APHA’s work on climate change, visit our Center for Climate, Health and Equity. And download a copy of Climate Change, Health, and Equity: A Guide for Local Health Departments, designed to help local public health departments integrate climate change and health equity into practice.