A climate change conference canceled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over concerns it ran counter to positions held by the Trump administration took place Thursday in Atlanta with a different sponsor. The forum focused on how a rise in global temperatures is affecting people's health.
Former Vice President Al Gore organized the event after the CDC in December told speakers that the conference—originally scheduled for Feb. 14—was postponed.
Speakers on Thursday discussed how rising temperatures have exacerbated chronic illness in vulnerable populations—the poor, the elderly and children. Vector-borne illnesses such as dengue fever and most recently the Zika virus have spread throughout parts of the U.S. in recent years.
The discussion on climate change comes amid the threat of rolled-back regulations that tried to curb climate change and healthcare costs. The trade publication Inside EPA reported Wednesday that President Donald Trump plans to sign executive orders that could potentially repeal President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan, which proposed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Heavy flooding, hurricanes, drought, wildfires, extreme winter storms and declines in air quality have all contributed to an increase in deaths.
Heat waves have also had a devastating effect on health. Last year was the hottest on record for a third straight year. More than 600 health-related deaths occur on average in the U.S. each summer, according to the CDC.
The U.S. healthcare system spent $14 billion a year between 2002 and 2009 on health costs related to conditions caused by climate change, according to a study in Health Affairs. That includes $740 million in direct medical expenditures from 760,000 encounters with the healthcare system during that period.
According to the Obama administration's 2014 National Climate Assessment, an estimated $6.5 billion a year in hospital admissions were related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma aggravated by climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.
Those revelations have led healthcare organizations to address climate change.
“We are seen as moral barometers, the ethical framework for society,” said Gary Cohen, president and co-founder of Health Care Without Harm. “We need to step up and to articulate the reality of what we're seeing in the communities that we serve.”
Cohen said healthcare providers are lessening their own environmental footprints. Kaiser Permanente set environmental goals to reach by 2025. The integrated health system plans to purchase 100% of its food from local and sustainable sources and reduce water use by 25%.