In recent years, global environmental climate change has become a third rail in American culture, dividing us along political lines. The Republican party espouses a range of positions, from the denial of climate change (the earth is not getting warmer) to denial of our role in causing the problem (even if climate change exists, humans have nothing to do with it). Each of these positions amounts to inaction on climate change. The Democratic Party falls more in line with the science on this issue, which is largely settled. There is little disagreement among scientists that the earth is getting warmer. Hence, the political argument is not really about the science as much as it is about priorities. The Republican Party—in the past several decades a ceaselessly pro-market party—prioritizes deregulation and corporate interests over the potential disruption of these interests caused by the structural changes necessary to address climate change. The Democratic Party, for its part, has increasingly chosen to prioritize the future of the planet over the unfettered primacy of the markets.
Climate change happens slowly; its worst consequences may not affect us for generations to come. How, then, do we make the decision to take the politically difficult steps today to protect our world tomorrow?
This is where health can inform the conversation. We all value health. Our national health care spending is a testament to how much we are willing to invest in staying healthy. And make no mistake: climate change threatens health. The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. A 2018 paper shows that unmitigated climate change will result in up to 40,000 additional suicides across the United States and Mexico by 2050. In two decades, as a direct result of climate change, the number of natural disasters doubled from approximately 200 to 400 per year, with human costs rising commensurately. The 2017 hurricane season far exceeded any season in the preceding 30 years. The list goes on.
When we recognize that climate change matters for health, we open the door for health to become an organizing principle in addressing this issue. If we do not act on climate change, we are compromising our health. Perhaps we are fine with that. More likely, though, the vast majority of us are not fine with it, and if we properly weigh the impact of climate change on our health today and in the years to come, the politics of this issue would be very different.
Featured Image: Pixabay