Health Matters, and So Does Climate Change

Yesterday another scientist reminded me how vital it is to share and discuss the latest research findings on climate change and health.

Professor Donald Roberts testified before the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, and mentioned a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS). I was among the paper’s co-authors; it describes how ragweed pollen seasons have already gotten longer in a swath of Midwestern US states and Canada. That effect is stronger the farther north one goes.

I appreciate Dr. Roberts’ mention of the paper- but need to clarify a couple of points:

If you read his comments about our PNAS paper, he’s not negating the work itself. [“I have reviewed the paper and offer no serious criticisms (p.3).”]  Dr. Roberts also says (p. 4), “…I think the scientists have shown an appropriate level of care in their interpretations and conclusions.” We concluded the Abstract by saying, “If similar warming trends accompany long-term climate change, greater exposure times to seasonal allergens may occur with subsequent effects on public health.”

Infectious diseases, which are among Dr Roberts’ main concerns, are very separate issues from the PNAS paper's focus on pollen. There is no mention in our paper of DDT, so what he says about “messages of fear by ideological campaigns against DDT and those for regulating CO2 emissions (p.4)” are misplaced.

He contends that, “Climate change as a threat to public health is, after all, the ultimate message of fear.” I would contend there's no need for fear, unless we do nothing and pretend its effects don't exist. Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, has said, “Climate change is one of the most serious public health threats facing our nation. Yet few Americans are aware of the very real consequences of climate change on the health of our communities, our families and our children.”

If we investigate climate-health linkages, monitor for environmental and health effects, and prepare the public health system and our most vulnerable communities to respond to a changing world – that’s spreading knowledge, not fear.

Climate change is a matter of health. I’m an environmental health scientist, and it’s my duty to share research findings on how environmental changes can affect health. That information could help people prevent illness before it happens. Dr. Roberts may call it activism, but I call it getting the word out.