Climate Crisis ‘Like COVID Every Year’ Without Immediate Action, U.S. Doctors and Nurses Warn
The results of last week’s U.S. elections may have had a lift from the work of more than 4,300 doctors and nurses who signed on to an impassioned letter to patients urging them to recognize the threat posed by the climate crisis, and to vote accordingly.
The letter was spearheaded by 14 medical and public health organizations—among them the Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health, as well as a number of medical student associations and state-based organizations like Climate Code Blue, reports NPR. It describes the world’s rapidly warming climate as “a clear and present danger” to the health of every American.
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“It’s kind of like COVID every year,” said Matt Hollon, a Washington-based internal medicine doctor and one of the letter’s signatories. “It’s a global public health crisis that will face us year in and year out for the rest of the century unless we take action now.”
Invoking the Hippocratic Oath that medical doctors take prior to entering practice (one that involves, among other commitments, a promise to do no harm), the letter’s signatories write that they have a responsibility “to counsel you about the risks that climate change poses to your health—and to future generations.”
Signed by “your current, retired, and future doctors and nurses,” the letter notes that even with the warming currently being experienced—“only” a little more than 1°C of warming over pre-industrial levels—people are already suffering cruelly from both the direct and indirect impacts of the climate crisis. As examples, it cites a 10-year-old with asthma who can no longer play sports outside because the polluted air could kill her, a 55-year-old postal worker who succumbed to heat stroke while delivering mail in an extreme heat wave, and a “80-year-old woman who broke her hip trying to evacuate before yet another 500-year hurricane hit.”
The letter also testifies to rising levels of anxiety and depression across all age groups as people “attempt to recover from loss of their homes and livelihoods due to extreme weather events, and as they grapple with what the future will look like in the face of climate change.”
The medical professionals add that the health impacts of the climate crisis will be disproportionately felt by the country’s most vulnerable populations: the very young, the very old, pregnant woman, minority communities, people with disabilities, and those with underlying health conditions.
“We already see that health harms are widespread,” they write. “If we let the temperatures continue to rise, we will only see more harm and suffering.”
Far from being harbingers of doom, however, the doctors and nurses see “reason for hope”—provided, that is, that the necessary immediate collective actions take place.
Paramount, they write, is the need to “convince our nation’s leaders to enact policies that accelerate America’s transition from a dirty energy economy (based on coal, oil, and gas) to a clean, renewable energy economy (based on solar, wind, and geothermal).”
Time is of the essence, they add: “The sooner we do this, the sooner we will all enjoy the benefits of cleaner air and water, better health, and a more vibrant and sustainable economy.”
While the letter neither endorsed nor condemned any specific candidate, NPR noted that several prestigious medical and scientific journals took the unprecedented step of calling out the Trump administration for its ongoing dismissal of science on everything from the climate crisis to the pandemic.
“The New England Journal of Medicine, for the first time since its founding in 1812, weighed in on a presidential election, calling the current administration ‘dangerously incompetent’ in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and urging voters not to let it squander more lives,” NPR writes.
Scientific American was similarly scathing, it notes, with the journal condemning Trump’s “ongoing denial of reality” and endorsing Joe Biden for president—“its first presidential endorsement in 175 years.”