Editor’s note: This commentary is by Dr. David Rand, DO, MPH, who is an assistant professor of Medicine at the University of Vermont Larner College of medicine, co-medical director of the Oncology-Hematology Unit and an Internal Medicine/Oncology hospitalist at the Medical Center. He is also on the Steering Committee of the Vermont Climate and Health Alliance.
Several weeks ago I was pleased to speak at the Statehouse in support of the 2020 Plan for Climate Action in Vermont. On behalf of the Vermont Climate and Health Alliance, which represents hundreds of medical and health professionals across Vermont, I joined members of a broad-based, 30-organization coalition in voicing our strong for the plan. I’m pleased to note that the Vermont Medical Society is also part of the coalition.
As your doctors, nurses, veterinarians and other health care providers, you expect us to act to protect your health. You expect us to say what needs to be said. As stewards of the health of Vermont’s people, we are obligated to speak out, stand up, and act to protect public health. That is why we joined the diverse coalition supporting a plan designed to protect our communities, especially our most vulnerable Vermonters.
Why am I and so many of my colleagues in the medical and health community extremely concerned? Let’s start with the global picture.
In the fall of 2018, 100 leading medical health organizations, representing over 6 million health care professionals declared: “climate change is a global health emergency.”
In 2019, the World Health Organization listed the Top 10 threats to human health. Climate change topped the list. I expect the same in 2020.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts severe health risks to all Americans from global warming.
The American Psychiatric Association reminds us that climate change and extreme weather events can severely impact our mental health, in both the short and long term.
Here are just a few examples of what my colleagues and I are seeing here in Vermont in our daily work:
VTDigger is underwritten by:
• Every day that the average temperature in Vermont reaches at least 87 degrees, there is an additional death among those 65 or older. Our patients with lung disease are often the first to notice hot weather, and they call us when it’s very hot or humid outside – because they can’t breathe.
• It’s not just our lung disease patients who are hurting – people with virtually any chronic medical illness are more prone to exacerbation of their ailments on the hottest days of the year.
• Both in the clinic and in the hospital, we are caring for an increasing number of patients with serious consequences of tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme and anaplasmosis.
• We see clear and unmistakable evidence that vulnerable Vermonters are the most threatened by the changes coming at us – the elderly, people in poverty, children, and people with disabilities. They are hit first and hardest.
The science is clear and unequivocal – climate change is a major threat to human health in the 21st century. This fact has been crystalizing for more and more medical professionals, which is why, two years ago, the Vermont Climate and Health Alliance, joined by the Vermont Medical Association, the Vermont Public Health Association, the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association and other groups sent a letter to the legislature stating so.
Today our message to the legislature, to the governor, and to all Vermonters is that our collective patient – the earth – is in worse condition today than it was two years ago. Our patient has a fever, low blood pressure, and is in the intensive care unit. Left unchecked, by the time Vermont’s schoolchildren are our age, carbon pollution will shatter many systems that we all rely on for health and security. I hope that everyone reading this will take a few moments to visit the climate and health websites created by the CDC and by the Vermont Department of Health. If you do, you will understand why we are speaking out.
We created this problem together. We will only get out of it together — doing what we need to do and move swiftly off of fossil fuels. The time for inaction and protecting the status quo is over, especially considering we have cleaner, healthier, more affordable, job-creating options available to us now.
In keeping with our oath as medical and health professionals to protect the well-being of our fellow Vermonters, the Vermont Climate and Health Alliance is committed to working hard to advance the climate solutions in the 2020 Action Plan, and then doing far more. The health and safety of our people, our animals, and the planet requires it.