Michigan doctor: Climate change is a human issue


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Doctors and nurses take an oath to protect their patients from harm, and so thousands now are speaking out about the health threats posed by climate change.

Too often, said Dr. Lisa Del Buono, founder of Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action, people assume climate change only is affecting faraway places, such as the fast-melting polar ice. She's among the 4,300 medical professionals who signed a "Dear Patient" letter, which she said encourages patients to demand action on climate change.

"Certainly it is affecting polar bears in the extreme north, and that's tragic," she said. "But it is also affecting you and me, and the general population, every single day. It's not just a 'polar bear issue'; it's a human issue, and it affects our health."

In Michigan, Del Buono said, the warmer temperatures are linked to increases in infectious disease-carrying insects and higher levels of ragweed and other pollens that aggravate allergies. She said poor air quality exacerbates asthma, and extreme weather events are affecting farm production.

Del Buono pointed out that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color in Michigan are among the populations that disproportionately bear the health impacts of climate change.

"While we enjoy the benefits of fossil-fuel energy," she said, "we need to recognize that it has made people who live close to those refineries and manufacturers sick for decades."

Del Buono said the letter calls for policies that move toward a clean-energy economy and prioritize the needs of communities over profits for the fossil-fuel industry.

"If we were to transition to clean forms of energy, we would realize huge health benefits almost immediately and save tremendous health-care dollars, and increase productivity of the workforce," she said. "So, this is such a win-win."

She said she's hopeful that if patients speak up about the climate crisis, policymakers will pay attention.

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