Without action, every child will be affected by climate change


“Thankfully, here we have the treatment for climate change, solutions to shift away from the carbon pollution and towards clean energy and working to find the best way to protect ourselves and each other from climate change,” Renee N. Salas, MD, MPH, lead author of the 2019 Lancet Countdown U.S. Policy Brief and a Harvard C-CHANGE Fellow, said during the press briefing. “All we need is political will.”

Salas compared the present moment to that period when a physician still has the ability to save a critically ill patient’s life with fast action.

“If I don’t act quickly, the patient may still die even though that treatment would have saved their life earlier,” she said. “We are in that narrow window.”

Physicians have a responsibility to speak to patients and families frankly about not only specific conditions, such as asthma, but also the climate-related causes of those conditions, such as increasing air pollution, said Gina McCarthy, director of the Harvard Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment and the 13th administrator U.S. Environmental Policy Administration. Physicians are trusted advisers and therefore need to speak up because climate change is “about the health and well-being and the future of children,” she said.

Political polarization is one of the biggest challenges to addressing climate change and stymies efforts to take action, according to Richard Carmona, MD, who served as the 17th U.S. Surgeon General.

“The thing that frustrated me as a surgeon general and continues to frustrate me today is that these very scientifically vetted issues are reduced to political currency that creates divisiveness, and things don’t get done,” he said during the briefing.

“We have to move beyond that and elevate this discussion to one of the survival of our civilization and the health and safety and security of all nations in the world,” continued Dr. Carmona, who is also a professor of public health at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The report notes that the warming is already “occurring faster than governments are able, or willing, to respond,” likely contributing to the increased outcry across the world from youth about the need to act.

And anyone can take some kind of action, Ms. McCarthy said. Her aim is to make the reality of climate change effects personal so that people understand its impact on them as well as what they can do.

“The report provides a list of actions that policy makers can take today to reduce the threat of climate change” as well as information on “how we can adapt and be more resilient as communities” while facing climate change’s challenges, she said.

Ms. McCarthy encouraged people to pay particular attention to the report’s mitigation and adaptation recommendations, “because I want them to know that climate change isn’t a lost cause,” she said. The actions people can demand of policymakers will not only avoid the worst-case health scenario but can also improve health today, she added.

“We can do better than to dwell on the problem,” Ms. McCarthy said. “We need people now to be hopeful about climate change, to do as others have suggested and demand action and take action in their own lives. We can use that to really drive solutions.”

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