Issue: Support investments in research, education, and efforts to alleviate the health consequences of climate change. Implement policies that improve air and water quality; reduce exposure to toxic substances; and address environmental injustice to promote health equity.
Why Action is Needed
Climate change affects human health by contributing to higher rates of respiratory and heat-related illness, increased prevalence of vector-borne and waterborne diseases, food and water insecurity, and malnutrition. The quality of the environment can contribute to common diseases, such as stroke, heart disease, asthma, and cancer. Persons who are elderly, sick, or poor are especially vulnerable to these potential consequences. By addressing climate change, we help to avert environmental catastrophe and gain public health improvements such as cleaner air and better respiratory health from reduced dirty fuel use and improved cardiovascular health through activities such as walking and cycling.
Climate change is happening now, and its effects are expected to worsen over the next century. Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions must be substantially curbed to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below” 2 °C (35.6 °F) (and the more ambitious target of 1.5 °C [34.7 °F]) above preindustrial levels, as established in the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was adopted by the representatives of 195 nations in December 2015.
A sense of urgency is warranted. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), modifiable environmental factors contributed to 24 percent (13.7 million) of global deaths and 28 percent of deaths among children younger than 5 years in 2016. The WHO estimates that “climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year from 2030 to 2050,” likely the result of malnourishment, malaria, diarrhea, and heat exposure related to climate change effects.
Additionally, because of their economic class or race, low-income communities and People of Color often suffer environmental injustice from the disproportionate placement of hazardous facilities that pollute the air, water, and soil. Exposure to environmental hazards early in life has been shown to increase the risk for chronic disease.
ACP makes several recommendations to achieve healthier environments in its position paper, “Environmental Health: A Position Paper From the American College of Physicians.” Policymakers should act to:
- Limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
- Reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution and affirm support for the Clean Air Act.
- Protect the public from harmful exposures to toxic substances.
- Achieve environmental justice for all communities, including People of Color, people with low income, and marginalized populations.
- Provide sufficient funding for federal agencies to achieve their environmental health mission.
Call to Action
- Enact strong, comprehensive climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, including accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy, such as wind and solar, and promoting energy efficiency.
- Request Congress to fully fund the tax credits and other incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act to combat climate change.
- Support the House-Senate bill, A. Donald McEachin Environmental Justice For All Act, to address the disproportionate effect of environmental hazards upon communities of color, low-income, Tribal and Indigenous and vulnerable populations.