I am a primary care internal medicine physician and medical educator who grew up in Spokane. I currently serve as governor of the Washington Chapter of the American College of Physicians.
ACP policy recommends that physicians and the broader health care community throughout the world engage in environmentally sustainable practices that reduce carbon emissions; support efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change; and educate the public, their colleagues, their community, and lawmakers about the health risks posed by climate change. Tackling climate change is an opportunity to dramatically improve human health and avert dire environmental outcomes, and ACP believes that physicians can play a role in achieving this goal.
Climate change is the public health crisis of the 21st century. It is a crisis that is already affecting the health and well-being of citizens of Washington state. As health care professionals, we are obligated to bring attention to the health effects and health costs of carbon pollution and climate change. We support taking critical steps forward in addressing the impact of climate change. As the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change highlighted in its recent, sobering report – there is an urgent need to act now to invest in protecting our air and water and in building new clean-energy infrastructure across the state.
Climate change is directly impacting the health of our citizens. Among the many consequences, including the increasing threat of diseases carried by mosquitoes and ticks, air quality is of particular concern to us as physicians. The increasing rate, duration and intensity of forest fires, fires that impact our entire state and particularly the eastern half of our beautiful and bountiful state, are tightly linked to climate change. And it is not just the forest fires affecting the air we breathe – climate change leads to increases in multiple components that determine air quality, such as heat, allergens and gases, and these increases synergistically threaten human health.
As internal medicine physicians, we are doctors for adults throughout their lives. We care for many patients with multiple chronic health problems including those sensitive to air quality. Critical health consequences due to climate change that we are already seeing, consequences that particularly impact those with limited resources residing in our poorer and our rural communities, include increasing deaths in the vulnerable elderly from extreme heat events and increasing deaths from poor air quality in those with heart and lung disease, including the more than 600,000 Washington citizens with asthma – and it is not just the deaths that concern us.
The reality is that carbon-pollution health effects are distressingly costly to treat. A single exacerbation of chronic lung disease requiring hospitalization can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Direct health savings from action on carbon pollution may actually be greater than these costs. Mitigation to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius in 2050 will save innumerable lives, dramatically reduce hospitalizations and avoid untold millions of lost school and work hours. In the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Action Benefits Report the health benefits of such mitigation are estimated at $200 billion per year in the U.S.
I reiterate, there is a critical and rapidly closing window of opportunity to try and protect the health of the citizens of Washington state from the consequences of climate change. With the ACP policy position as backdrop, our Executive Council of the Washington Chapter voted unanimously to endorse “Yes on I-1631.” In doing so, we joined the Washington State Medical Association, the largest physician organization in the state, as well as the Washington Academy of Family Practice, the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and other health organizations to advocate in the interest of the public’s health. We know with this initiative, we can protect our health and pass a clean, healthy, profitable state to our future generations.
That’s why we have endorsed I-1631 and urge you to vote ‘Yes on I-1631’ on Nov. 6.
Matt Hollon, MD MPH FACP
Governor, Washington Chapter – American College of Physicians
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