The Island Press Urban Resilience Project, supported by the Kresge Foundation, is working to promote a holistic understanding of resilience that is grounded in equity and sustainability.
The president of the most powerful nation in the world, the leader of a major world religion, and one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals agree: Climate change is a major threat to human health, and immediate action is critical.
That message was central to Pope Francis’ encyclical, released earlier this month. It is echoed in a new report by the UCL/Lancet Commission, and in last week’s White House summit on climate and health, led by Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.
For those of us who work in public health, this consensus comes as no surprise; we are already seeing the impacts of a changing climate. We’re seeing more heat waves, wildfires and extreme storms, with resulting increases in heat stroke, asthma, injuries and mental trauma. Ragweed seasons are longer and stronger – bad news for allergy sufferers. Dengue fever and Lyme disease are cropping up where they’ve never been seen before.
Increasingly, medical and public health professionals recognize climate change as a health problem. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and the American Nurses Association have put out position statements on climate change. So has the California State Parent Teacher Association, because of the growing impact on children’s health and their futures.
Hospital and health care systems are taking on climate change, too, committing to hospital “greening”, and in some cases even divesting from fossil fuels, as part of medicine’s ethical commitment to “first, do no harm.” Many of the steps we must take to limit climate change will have broader health benefits. For example, reducing carbon pollution from power plants will give us cleaner air and healthier lungs.
Making our communities more walkable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars is good for health, too, because it makes it easy for people to incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives. For years, we’ve been encouraging people to eat less red meat and more fresh fruits and veggies to reduce heart disease and diabetes, but it would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our farms. These changes would not only improve people’s health; they’d also save money—reducing costs from ER visits and hospitalizations, lost work and missed school. In fact, one of the core principles of public health is prevention – create communities and a society that helps prevent people from getting sick in the first place. Given the health impacts we’re already seeing from climate change, and the climate change that’s already locked in, taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is critical.
Religion, politics and medical science rarely agree on anything. So when the president, the pope and the Lancet Commission are all sounding the same alarm, it is time to stop debating the problem and start working on solutions.