It is no longer a question whether climate change is real, at least in the eyes of most climate scientists. This phenomenon is universal, affecting every corner of the globe. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the United States is deeply affected by climate change and the associated weather patterns.
Understanding the ramifications of the fluctuating environment is no small task, requiring a holistic investigation into the economic, legal, societal, public health and environmental effects of global warming. In what follows, we will give our attention to one of the most pressing concerns – public health – while offering some critical insight into the administration’s problematic position.
Wrapping our minds around the damaging effects of climate change on public health takes on a whole new character under the current political regime. The Trump administration and 180 members of Congress refuse to accept the scientific fact of global warming, constantly commenting on its supposedly mythical nature. Trump infamously said Chinese officials invented the concept for their own economic benefit.
National Climate Assessment
It was thus surprising when Trump allowed a governmental report, known as the National Climate Assessment, to be released – a report that unequivocally states that human beings are the “dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” The report also states that “[t]his period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization.”
Such a report appears odd, as the current administration (in collusion with Congress) has done everything in its power to tear down the regulatory framework meant to diminish emissions and green-house gases. Not only that: it has willfully abandoned the global effort to tackle high emission levels, as it has consistently stated its lack of interest in the Paris agreement.
Destroying Public Health
The current administration has single-handedly annihilated regulations shown to have positive effects on public health, and in some cases, save lives. Recently, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt introduced a rule repealing an Obama-era regulation pertaining to heavy-duty trucks. According to the EPA’s own research, that rule could prevent the premature deaths of 1,600 people. Instead of thinking about the real human costs, Pruitt paid attention, as he often does, to special interest groups in danger of losing money because of regulations.
The Grave Danger Posed by Climate Change
The human costs of climate change are very real and demand our attention, despite the administration’s refusal to fess up. Climate change doesn’t affect public health in only one way. A report from the US Global Change Research Program (GCRP), entitled “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment,” delves into the different health concerns associated with the changing climate. The report includes findings on illnesses related to temperature, air-quality, extreme events, changes in water, food security, and mental health. We will briefly focus on air quality.
It’s important to take note of the devastating consequences of poor air quality, as the repealing of emissions standards and related regulations can only worsen this condition. According to the GCRP report, air quality plays a significant role in public health. The increase in ground ozone levels over the past decades has led to a rising mortality rate. According to a paper cited in the report, ozone levels, in combination with fine particulate matter, have been associated with premature death rates as high as 10 percent (in LA). The paper observes that for the elderly (aged 65 to 99) 1.1 million life years have been lost thanks to particulate matter.
If anything has been made clear in this blog post, it’s that actual lives are being lost because of poor air quality. In addition, the President of the United States doesn’t appear interested in joining the international community in tackling this problem, and he is even less interested in maintaining environmental regulations in the US.
What can we do in this situation? If the government fails us, where do we turn? Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett suggest something that might be useful: a mass legal movement against the ninety or so fossil fuel companies responsible for a majority of greenhouse gas emissions. Legal action could be the basis for forcing companies to pay for the tons of carbon they’ve unloaded on the world.