Remember on Monday, when the Washington Post broke a story that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had abruptly canceled a long-scheduled meeting on the health risks of climate change? If you missed it, the CDC didn’t give a reason why, but it was clear it had to do with the new Trump administration’s doubtful stance on climate change.
Well, the event is back on with a new host: former Vice President Al Gore, of An Inconvenient Truth fame.
According to a press release, Gore, along with the American Public Health Association, the Harvard Global Health Institute, and a number of other health and environment groups, will hold a one-day meeting on February 16 at the Carter Center in Atlanta — a scaled-down version of the original three-day CDC event.
The Washington Post’s Brady Dennis reported that it’s not yet clear whether CDC officials who were supposed to go to the canceled event will attend this one.
But the move sends a powerful signal: Civil society and academic organizations will try to fill the conversation gaps about climate change left by the new administration.
“Health professionals urgently need the very best science in order to protect the public, and climate science has increasingly critical implications for their day-to-day work,” said Gore in the statement. “With more and more hot days, which exacerbate the proliferation of the Zika virus and other public health threats, we cannot afford to waste any time.”
The canceled event was one in a series of disruptions at science-related agencies following Trump’s inauguration. Taken together, they suggest science in the age of Trump is on track for massive upheaval.
Climate change is increasingly being treated as a health issue
Scientists are already clear about the many ways in which climate change can really hurt public health. In a big 2015 report, The Lancet brought together experts who put it in stark terms: "The implications of climate change for a global population of 9 billion people threatens to undermine the last half century of gains in development and global health":
The direct effects of climate change include increased heat stress, floods, drought, and increased frequency of intense storms, with the indirect threatening population health through adverse changes in air pollution, the spread of disease vectors, food insecurity and under-nutrition, displacement, and mental ill health.
The authors also said that "tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century."
And their report didn’t come in isolation. The health community is increasingly trying to reframe climate change and other environmental problems as health issues. "The evidence is overwhelming: Climate change endangers human health," said World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan. "Solutions exist, and we need to act decisively to change this trajectory."
Still, there are a lot of scientific details still to work out, as well as strategies for how to prevent the worst effects.
The trouble is addressing the problem will require sectors other than health — such as transportation, energy, and agriculture — to wake up too. They'll need to work with the health community on actions that mitigate the health effects of climate change. And as long as climate change isn't seen as an urgent health issue, such action will be slow or nonexistent. Right now this isn't a widespread view: Research suggests few Americans think about climate change as a health issue.
The canceled — but now revived — climate change and health event will at least help keep the conversation going.