Millions of Lives Are At Risk from Rising Temperatures
Statement attributable to:
Ana María López, MD, MPH, MACP
President, American College of Physicians
Washington, DC (October 9, 2018) —The American College of Physicians (ACP) emphatically supports a call from the world’s leading climate scientists for “rapid and far-reaching” policies to avert a devastating impact on the planet and human health from rising greenhouse gas emissions. A new report issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that unprecedented efforts need to be made in order to have a chance at avoiding catastrophic effects from climate change in the near future.
In making this determination, the report cites more than 6,000 scientific references, with contributions from thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide. Ninety-one authors and review editors from 40 countries prepared the IPCC report in response to an invitation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) when it adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015.
As climate change worsens, an increase in global temperature and frequency of heat waves will expose people to a risk of heat exhaustion. Asthma and other chronic lung conditions will be exacerbated by increased particulate matter and ground-level ozone in the atmosphere. Exposure to infectious disease from vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks has and will continue to escalate. An increase in heavy downpours and flooding in America and the world has already, and will continue to, lead to an increase in waterborne diseases. Extreme weather events will take a human toll through an increased incidence of stress, anxiety and depression. However, according to the IPCC, taking immediate and aggressive action to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will reduce the risk of heat-related mortality and morbidity, ozone-related mortality, and vector-borne diseases like malaria.
In a 2016 paper, Climate Change and Health, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, ACP outlined the negative consequences that climate change can and will have on public and individual health. The paper cited higher rates of respiratory and heat-related illnesses, increased prevalence of diseases passed by insects, water-borne diseases, food and water insecurity and malnutrition, and behavioral health problems as potential health effects of climate change. Those at the extremes of age—the elderly and our children, the sick, and the poor are especially vulnerable.
As a physician I am a witness to the health effects that climate change is having now, yet I know that far worse is in store for the health of the public and my patients if far-reaching action is not taken immediately to reduce carbon emissions rapidly. Physicians can play a substantial role by advocating for climate change adaptation and mitigation policies and educating themselves about climate change and how it affects public and individual health, and the potential health threats posed to their communities. ACP has developed a Climate Change and Health Action Plan to help physicians take action.
The U.S. should be taking even more aggressive action now to protect the health of our community’s most vulnerable members—including our children, our seniors, people with chronic illnesses, and the poor. Our climate is changing. People are being harmed. Our planet is in danger.
About the American College of Physicians
The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization in the United States with members in more than 145 countries worldwide. ACP membership includes 154,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internal medicine physicians are specialists who apply scientific knowledge and clinical expertise to the diagnosis, treatment, and compassionate care of adults across the spectrum from health to complex illness. Follow ACP on Twitter and Facebook.