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Heat Advisory: Protecting Health on a Warming Planet
by Dr. Alan Lockwood

Drawing on peer-reviewed scientific and medical research, Dr. Lockwood meticulously details the symptoms of climate change and their medical side effects.

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Climate Change Is a Threat to Health

Climate change is one of the greatest health threats facing humanity in the 21st century. As worldwide patterns of temperature, precipitation and weather events change, the delicate balance of climate and life is disrupted, with serious impacts on food and agriculture, water sources, and health.

Climate impacts affecting health include potentially lethal heat waves, worsening air quality, extreme storms, and the spread of insect-borne diseases to previously unaffected regions. 

In addition, climate change contributes to major world crises. For example, changes in temperature and rainfall, floods, drought and rising sea level affect food production and have driven people from their homes, creating "climate refugees." 

PSR is taking action to educate health professionals about the health consequences of climate change and engage them to respond. 

Here is a summary of recent PSR actions. Read on, below, for more information on climate change's impacts on health.

Support for the Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is our nation's broadest, most far-reaching policy to concretely reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The CPP is a federal policy that requires the states to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from their electricity sector – meaning, in practical terms, from coal-fired power plants. For each state, the Environmental Protection Agency devised a feasible target for carbon dioxide reduction. Together, these reductions would cut carbon pollution from the energy generation sector by almost one-third by the year 2030.

It was no surprise that states and utility companies heavily invested in coal filed a legal challenge to the CPP. What was a surprise was the Supreme Court's response: In February, the high court issued a stay on the CPP, leaving it without binding authority while it is sent back to an appeals court for a substantive review. 

See PSR's summary of the legal situation of the CPP and outlining possible paths for maintaining the momentum to develop renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Health Professional Call to Governors

PSR drafted a letter to the nation's governors urging them to continue developing plans for phasing out coal-fired power, with or without the CPP, and to replace coal with renewable energy and energy efficiency. Over a dozen national organizations signed onto the letter, including the American Lung Association and the American Public Health Association.

In addition, over 3,000 people added their names to a companion letter from individuals and local organizations.

PSR Chapters Carry On

Many PSR chapters continue pursuing an energy system based on clean healthy sources, yet they face a varied political landscape, ranging from high environmental aware in states like California to climate denial in states like Florida. For more information, click here.

Climate Change Threatens Your Health

Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing human health today. As temperature and precipitation patterns change, the delicate balance of climate, weather events and life is disrupted.

Although few people are aware of the impact climate change may have on their health, the health effects are serious and widespread. Disease, injury and death can result from climate-induced natural disasters, heat-related illness, pest- and waterborne diseases, air and water pollution and damage to crops and drinking water sources.

Children, the poor, the elderly, and those with a weak or impaired immune system are especially vulnerable.

We, and countries around the world, must act now to slow and eventually reverse climate change. That means slashing fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions; shifting to clean renewable energies, and preparing our communities for the degree of climate change that will come by improving our public health infrastructure, disease surveillance, and emergency response capabilities.

PSR provides information on a range of climate-related health threats:

Climate Change Basics

Scientific evidence continues to mount that the earth's climate is changing rapidly. Global average surface temperatures have increased by about one degree Fahrenheit since the beginning of the 20th century, and nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred during the 21st century

Climate scientists agree that human activities are the primary cause of this warming. As we burn fossil fuels to power our homes, industries and transportation systems, we add more and more carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by over 30 percent since pre-industrial times. It is now higher than at any point in the last 420,000 years.

Unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, temperatures are projected to increase by an additional 2 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Already, rising temperatures have disrupted climate patterns around the world, resulting in more frequent intense storms and more intense heat waves. Melting glaciers and rising oceans also result from climate change.

If we are to live on a cool, healthy planet, we must move quickly to clean, renewable energy sources that are not derived from fossil fuels. In the meantime, our communities must take measures to increse their resilience against the dangerous consequences of climate change that are already inevitable.

To promote public understanding of the relationship between climate change and health, PSR has developed a variety of resources including webinars and fact sheets. To view and share these resources, please see our PSR Climate Change and Health Resources page. 

Page Updated November 30, 2017

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