White House Emphasizes Health Effects In Push for Action to Curb Greenhouse Gases

By Andrew Childers

April 7 — The White House is emphasizing the link between a changing climate and public health as part of an effort to boost support for its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

President Barack Obama participated in a roundtable discussion April 7 at Howard University School of Medicine and the administration released a report detailing the impact rising temperatures will have on public health as the administration attempts to link its efforts to regulate greenhouse gases to tangible health impacts.

“No challenge poses a greater threat to future gens like climate change, but this is not just a future threat. This is a present threat,” Brian Deese, senior adviser to the White House, told reporters April 7.

A changing climate will increase the severity of extreme heat days, storm surges and algal blooms, the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program said in its draft report, released April 7. Deese said changing temperatures will also increase the prevalence of pollens and ozone pollution, which can trigger asthma attacks.

“What this all stacks up to is more people are exposed to the triggers that can cause asthma attacks,” he said.

Obama has designated April 6 through 12, 2015, as National Public Health Week and his administration is using that opportunity to highlight the health impacts of climate change. As part of its outreach efforts, the Obama administration is releasing more than 150 health-related data sets through its Climate Data Initiative that can be used by researchers to identify and minimize the impacts of climate change. It will also present a Climate Change and Public Health Summit later this spring, and the Department of Health and Human Services will release a Health Care Facilities Toolkit through its Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Care Facilities Initiative to improve health providers' access to data on climate change and health.

White House Stresses Outreach 

A large portion of the White House's latest climate push will focus on outreach to public health professionals and engagement with local governments looking to boost their climate mitigation strategies. In addition to Obama's roundtable, the surgeon general will participate in a White House Climate Change and Health Summit this spring and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release its Adaptation in Action Report, which spotlights successful steps taken by state and local officials to reduce the health impacts of climate change.

The White House also announced that the deans of 30 medical, public health and nursing schools had committed to training upcoming doctors and nurses to better address the health impacts from climate change.

The administration also is recruiting top technology companies to help prepare the nation's health systems for those health impacts.

The White House previously sought to highlight the public health impacts from climate change in 2014 when it proposed the Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33), which would set the first limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants

Report Identifies Health Impacts 

The administration also released April 7 a draft report detailing the potential health impacts from a changing climate, which include as many as 10,000 temperature-related deaths and increased susceptibility to illness. Vulnerable populations will be disproportionately impacted by illnesses caused by a changing climate, the draft report said.

“The socially isolated, economically disadvantaged, some communities of color, and those with chronic illnesses are also especially vulnerable to death or illness,” the draft report said.

Rising temperatures will also increase the formation of particulate matter and ozone, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase the prevalence of allergens, the draft report said. All of those factors are expected to cause an increase in the risk of asthma attacks.

“The challenges we face are real and they are clear and present in people’s daily lives,” Deese said.

The Environmental Protection Agency will accept comments on the draft report until June 8. Comment can be made at http://www.globalchange.gov/health-assessment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Childers in Washington at achilders@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

The U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program report is available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/healthreport/Health_FullReport_PublicDraft_April_7_2015.pdf