President Obama today unveils new Climate Action Plan. Photo courtesy iStockphoto

Citing a moral imperative to create a healthier planet with a stable environment for future generations, President Barack Obama laid out his vision for reducing climate change before environment and health advocates at Georgetown University on Tuesday.

His “Climate Action Plan” details a set of common-sense initiatives to reduce carbon pollution by changing the way the nation uses energy, prepare for the impacts of climate change and position the U.S. as a leader in global climate change efforts. The administration says Tuesday’s plan represents just one important step as part of a deliberate progression towards stronger environmental policies.

“The question is not whether we have the courage to act before it is too late,” Obama said in a speech. “As a president, a father and an American I’m here to say we need to act.”

The plan details strategies to bolster the health sector’s capacity to respond to and mitigate the health impacts of climate change. Specifically, the plan says it will “help train public health professionals and community leaders to prepare their communities for the health consequences of climate change, including through effective communication of health risks and resilience measures.”

The American Public Health Association expressed its support of the plan and warned of the health consequences of climate change.
“Climate change is one of the greatest public health challenges we face, exposing Americans to conditions and extreme weather events that result in premature illness and death due to respiratory ailments, heat-related stress and insect-borne diseases,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA. “It threatens our nation’s water and food supplies. Low-income, elderly, minority and marginalized communities are at greatest risk.”

APHA hopes the administration’s renewed commitment to the issue engenders greater support for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to carry out its work safeguarding public health under the Clean Air Act. It urged Congress to swiftly confirm Gina McCarthy as the agency’s new administrator.

The president’s plan didn’t include guidance on how to specifically fund the initiatives, even while local communities are already paying the price of extreme weather events.

“How are we going to pay for more and more expensive fire seasons?” Obama questioned.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 2012 was a record-breaking year for extreme weather.  Wildfires burned more than 9.2 million acres in the U.S. and destroyed hundreds of homes, and 1,300 counties in 29 states across the country declared drought disaster areas.