Stakeholders in the health care industry are criticizing President Trump's decision on Thursday to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, saying the move will be harmful to public health.
The Paris Climate Agreement
In the Paris Climate Agreement, representatives from 195 countries—including the United States—pledged to take action to ensure the Earth's average temperature does not increase more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels through voluntary emissions reductions. If global temperatures exceed the 2-degree goal, sea levels will rise, storms will be more powerful, droughts will last longer, and biodiversity will diminish, according to the Los Angeles Times' "Science Now."
The agreement also calls on developed nations to provide $100 billion in annual funding to help developing nations build renewable energy sources.
How climate change affects health
According to Vox, researchers have long argued that the effects of climate change could undermine decades of progress in global health.
For instance, a warmer planet is more conducive to the spread of infectious diseases. Disease-carrying mosquitos thrive in warmer climates, Vox reports. Researchers believe that climate change could be a reason why the Aedes type of mosquito—which carries Zika, dengue, and chikungunya—may have spread to more places, reaching more people, in recent years. Moreover, researchers believe bird flu, cholera, Lyme disease, and salmonella "are all being made worse by climate change," according to Vox.
In addition, research shows that air pollution raises the risk of chronic conditions such as asthma and heart disease. A study of 450,000 U.S. residents that spanned 1982 to 2004 found that increased exposure to the particles in fossil fuel emissions raised the risk of death from heart disease. Meanwhile, the share of U.S. residents with asthma has increased more than twofold over the last 30 years, and climate change has played a significant role in driving that increase, Vox reports.
In his announcement Thursday, Trump kept his campaign promise to pull the United States from the agreement, which he has called "unfair" for wealthier nations. Trump added that while he would withdraw the country from the agreement, he plans to have the United States re-negotiate its participation in the agreement or strike a similar deal that would, he said, be a better deal for Americans.
According to NPR's "The Two-Way," Trump is authorized to pull the United States from the agreement without Congressional approval because former President Obama opted to join the pact without Congressional approval. However, under the accord's terms, the United States will not be able to fully exit the agreement until November 2020.
Health care leaders voice support for Paris Agreement, criticize Trump's decision
Leaders in the health care industry urged Trump to remain in the agreement when reports first suggested he might withdraw the United States, and stakeholders reiterated their concerns and disappointment on Thursday following Trump's formal announcement, according to "Science Now."
Last month, the CEOs of three large health systems called on Trump not to withdraw the country from the agreement. In the letter, Kevin Lofton of Catholic Health Initiatives, Lloyd Dean of Dignity Health, and Richard Gilfillan of Trinity Health, urged Trump not to leave the agreement, saying the deal is " simply essential to the health of the U.S. and global populations."
Separately, Virginia Mason Health System told Axios after Trump's announcement that it was "disappointed." The health system added, "Recognizing that climate change is a significant threat to human health, Virginia Mason will continue to pursue a path of providing quality health care in such a way that it protects individual, community and global health."
The American College of Physicians (ACP) also voiced concern about the decision. In a statement, the organization said, "The United States' withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement will greatly undermine the global effort to prevent and mitigate the devastating impact of climate change on human health." The ACP statement cited a 2016 paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in which ACP highlighted the negative implications climate change has for public health, including higher rates of respiratory and heat-related illnesses and increased prevalence of water-borne diseases, diseases spread by insects, food and water insecurity and malnutrition, and behavioral health problems.
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, called Trump's move "reckless." He stated, "The science is clear. Climate change is happening and it's affecting our health. A changing climate affects our food supply, the spread of infectious disease, our water systems and air quality, and much more. All have significant impacts on human health."
Mary Pittman, president and CEO of the Public Health Institute, similarly expressed concern about the decision. "Climate change is perhaps the most important public health issue of our time," she said. "Aggressive, unilateral and mutual action is urgently needed to protect our people and our planet. The U.S. President's decision ... to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord is a mistake that, if not quickly undone, puts the entire world on a perilous course."
Separately, Harold Wimmer, CEO of the American Lung Association, said, "Climate change is already harming the health of people in the United States and worldwide through degraded air quality, heat waves, droughts, extreme storms, disease outbreaks, and more." He continued, "Unchecked climate change is a global health crisis that threatens to reverse decades of health gains worldwide, with serious consequences for our children and generations to come" (Belluz, Vox, 6/1; Domonoke/Dwyer, "The Two-Way," NPR, 6/1; Kaplan, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 6/1; Herman, Axios, 6/2; American College of Physicians statement, 6/1).
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