As physicians and health professionals, we believe that climate change - human-caused climate change - is the biggest public health threat of our time. We know that climate change hurts real people right now. All of us can be harmed, but some are more vulnerable than others: children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and communities of color.
The longer we wait to act, the more fossil fuel we continue to burn, and the more carbon dioxide we pour into the air - the more the earth will warm, the more extreme the climate changes, and the more dire and wide-spread the impacts and harms on people will become.
Those impacts include more frequent and severe heat waves; more trauma from storms, fires, and floods; the spread of mosquitoes and other disease-carrying vectors; an increase in waterborne diseases; a longer allergy season; malnutrition and starvation from reduced and uncertain crop production; and more civil unrest, conflicts, and forced migrations arising from the lack of food, water, and increasingly scarce resources that will result from excess heat, more extreme weather, and rising sea levels.
The same fossil fuel combustion that is responsible for the dangerously rising levels of CO2 is also responsible for most of our other air pollutants. We have years of evidence and clinical experience showing that burning fossil fuels has had significant, direct, and harmful impacts on heart disease, lung disease, and other health problems. We could achieve enormous and immediate health benefits from burning less fossil fuels. Along with that, we could realize huge cost savings.
We can still solve this if we act quickly and decisively. The most important actions we can take are to reduce poverty, minimize energy waste, lower fossil fuel emissions, and fully embrace clean energy. If we do those things, we will clean up our air and our water, and we will all immediately enjoy better health.