White House global warming report: What integrative practitioners need to know

Last Friday, the Trump administration released a major climate assessment, which predicts several severe outcomes for public health and the economy.

The 1,600-page National Climate Assessment report, culminating years of research by top scientists, details the effects of climate change, as well as the scope of the threats posed, in what experts are calling the most thorough analysis yet of the dangers of unchecked global warming. The report is required by Congress every four years and is issued by 13 federal agencies and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Though President Trump has longed denied the existence of climate change, the report shows the more the climate changes, the more severe and dangerous the impacts will become. Not only will climate change result in hundreds of billions of dollars in annual losses by the end of the century unless global greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced, extreme weather events as a result of global warming will affect agricultural productivity, price spikes and interruptions in international trade, and several threats to public health.

Chapter 14 of the report details exactly how climate change will affect the health of all Americans. Of course, one of the most immediate effects is increased exposure to heat waves, floods, droughts, and other extreme weather events. In fact, the report finds that continued warming will result in increased heat-related deaths.

However, the warming climate and more frequent and intense rain may expand the range of ticks and mosquitoes, exposing more people to diseases like West Nile, dengue fever, and Lyme disease. Food and waterborne infectious diseases will become more common, and the quality and safety of air, food, and water will diminish. The report says climate change could also affect human health by adding significant stresses to mental health and wellbeing.

Climate change could also worsen harmful ozone levels and air pollution, sending more people to the hospital for aggravated asthma and other respiratory or cardiovascular problems, and could increase premature deaths, the report says. Those most at risk include children, older adults, and low-income communities.

Proactive adaptation policies and programs can reduce the risks and impact of climate-sensitive health outcomes and from disruptions in healthcare services, the report finds. Additional benefits to health come from explicitly accounting for climate change risks in infrastructure planning and urban design, keeping the environment top-of-mind in all discussions.

The report concludes with a final key message, reducing greenhouse gas emissions would benefit the health Americans both immediately and in the long-term. By the end of this century, thousands of American lives could be saved and hundreds of billions of dollars in healthcare costs gained each year if the focus shifts to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Combatting climate change is a group effort, but with the health of our patients in mind, we can take a proactive approach in caring for our patients.  It is incumbent upon integrative practitioners to not only advocate for a whole-person approach to healthcare that focuses on the individual, but one that considers environmental exposures and impacts we have on the world around us.

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