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Climate change is making us sick, top U.S. doctors say

A man keeps cool as he sits in the fountain at Washington Square Park, August 15, 2016 in New York City. The New York City area is once again under a heat advisory on Monday, with heat index temperatures reaching 100 degrees.
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A man keeps cool as he sits in the fountain at Washington Square Park, August 15, 2016 in New York City. The New York City area is once again under a heat advisory on Monday, with heat index temperatures reaching 100 degrees.

From increases in deadly diseases to choking air pollution and onslaughts of violent weather, man-made climate change is making Americans sicker, according to a report released Wednesday by 11 of the nation's top medical societies.

The report was prepared by the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, a new group that represents more than 400,000 doctors, who make up more than half of all U.S. physicians.

"Doctors in every part of our country see that climate change is making Americans sicker," said Mona Sarfaty, the director of the new consortium and a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

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"Physicians are on the frontlines and see the impacts in exam rooms," she said. "What's worse is that the harms are felt most by children, the elderly, Americans with low income or chronic illnesses, and people in communities of color."

The report pinpointed three types of harms from climate change:

  • Direct harms, such as injuries and deaths due to increasingly violent weather; asthma and other lung diseases exacerbated by extremely hot weather and wildfires; and longer allergy seasons
  • Increased spread of disease through insects that carry infections like Lyme disease or Zika virus, and through contaminated food and water
  • The effects on mental health resulting from the damage climate change can do to society, such as increasing depression and anxiety

The burning of fossil fuels — gas, oil and coal — to power our world releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the Earth's atmosphere, warming the planet to levels that cannot be explained by natural climate cycles.

Scientists have warned for years of the potential impacts of climate change on human health. The federal National Climate Assessment released in 2014 said: "Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, and illnesses transmitted by food, water and diseases carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks."

And the World Health Organization estimated climate change will be responsible for about 240,000 deaths per year by 2030.

"Here's the message from America's doctors on climate change: it's not only happening in the Arctic Circle, it's happening here. It's not only a problem for us in 2100, it's a problem now. And it's not only hurting polar bears, it's hurting us," Sarfaty said.

The mission of the new medical consortium, which includes groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians is to inform the public and policymakers about the "harmful health effects of climate change on Americans, as well as about the immediate and long-term health benefits associated with decreasing greenhouse gas emissions."

The report, titled Medical Alert! Climate Change is Harming Our Health, will be distributed to Congress.