Climate Change May Be Making Our Nation Sick

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A group representing about half of all U.S. doctors have sounded an alarm about climate change, saying it is real, it is making people sick, and that certain groups are especially vulnerable to its chaos.

In a report prepared by the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, which is comprised of 11 American medical societies, the consortium stresses that climate change is not some far off threat – it is already here.

Credit: Christopher Michel/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

“Climate change is already causing problems in communities in every region of our nation, and from a doctor’s perspective, it’s harming our health,” per the executive summary. “Few are aware that some groups of Americans – including our children, our elders, the sick and the poor – are most likely to be harmed by climate change.”

“Climate change” is an umbrella term for several artilleries in mother nature’s weather arsenal, including extreme temperatures, outdoor air quality, extreme weather events (floods, droughts), food-related infection and agriculture, water-related infection, mosquito- and tick-borne infections, and wildfires. These things can impact the nation’s mental health as well, the researchers warned.

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“The most important action we can take to protect our health is to reduce heat-trapping pollution by reducing energy waste and accelerating the inevitable transition to clean renewable energy,” per the report. “It is well within our power to accomplish this. Efficient buildings, neighborhoods that support not just automobiles but many ways of getting around, and smart energy policies are all essential and achievable. In addition to limiting climate change, accelerating a transition to clean energy has the added benefit of immediately cleaning up our air and our water so that we can all immediately enjoy better health.”

The report is peppered with anecdotal stories that show the wrath of climate change. In one sidebar, Dr. Samantha Ahdoot, lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy on Climate Change, discusses an incident where her son collapsed in the heat at band camp. She also talks about a colleague who treated a young football player in Arkansas for heat stroke, kidney failure and pulmonary edema. “Fortunately, kidney dialysis saved him, but it was a close call,” Ahdoot writes. “Every summer, I see the impacts of increasing temperature and heat waves on children like Logan, and warn parents of the dangers of increasing heat waves.”

Related: Eating More Omega-3 Fats May Reduce Harm of Air Pollution

In another breakout, Dr. Nitin Damle explains how our wacky weather patterns have led to an explosion of disease-carrying bugs. “Because of the changing climate and the spread of vectors, we expect that Americans will continue to face new diseases and familiar diseases in new places. I know that doctors need to be ready for this and patients need to understand these dangers.”

Weather events also are leading to more food contamination. “Heavy downpours and flooding can spread fecal bacteria and viruses into fields where food is growing,” per the report. “Higher sea surface temperatures can lead to more pathogens and greater accumulation of mercury and other heavy metals in seafood. Foodborne illness has long been known to peak in summer due to the heat. Because pests, parasites and bacteria thrive in warmer temperatures, farmers are using more pesticides on crops and drugs in livestock, which can cause health problems.”

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”