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Rx: Top Docs Agree Fixing Climate Is Urgent Priority

Sept. 12, 2021
CLARK'S REMARKS: As the United Nations reconvenes, 220 medical journals are jointly calling for action to address climate change as a public health emergency.

Since the start of Clark’s Remarks more than eight years ago, climate change has been a frequent (some might say, "incessant") topic of these columns. On one occasion in 2016, I even specifically called out climate-change deniers.

Today, for whatever reason, there are still many learned professionals in our industry who refuse to accept the vast amount of scientific evidence that links climate change – at least in part – to human activities.

But climate scientists aren’t the only ones who have been sounding the alarm about climate change and its associated sea level rise. This month, the global medical profession is also raising its voice, issuing its strongest message yet.

In a joint editorial published Sept. 5, some 220 professional journals in the fields of medicine, nursing, and public health – including luminaries such as the New England Journal of Medicine, and both the British Medical Journal and The Lancet – are now calling for urgent action on climate change. And the timing of the editorial was not coincidental.

On Sept. 14, the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 76), and then, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will also meet. In the new editorial, the medical journals stress that current efforts are not doing enough to address the health problems resulting from climate change. “Health is already being harmed by global temperature increases,” and the physical damage it is causing, they state. It also reiterates the need to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 deg. C above pre-industrial levels to prevent irreversible harm to our health.

Of course, in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recognized for years the role of climate change on human health. In 2014, CDC issued this statement:

In the U.S., public health can be affected by disruptions of physical, biological, and ecological systems, including disturbances originating here and elsewhere. The health effects of these disruptions include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths related to extreme weather events, changes in the prevalence and geographical distribution of food- and water-borne illnesses and other infectious diseases, and threats to mental health.

Granted, CDC is not perfect. Early on in the pandemic, the agency seemed to miss the mark a few times (many of us took them to task for their research letter that incorrectly blamed the HVAC system for a COVID outbreak in a Chinese restaurant). Re climate, however, CDC did find the resources to produce a research report entitled, Preparing for the Regional Health Impacts of Climate Change in the United States.

That document stated that “changes in temperature and precipitation are increasing health risks associated with wildfire and ground-level ozone pollution” (think California) and “rising air and water temperatures and more intense extreme events.”

Here in Florida, as of the first week of September, just over the halfway mark in the Atlantic hurricane season, we’ve already had 13 named storms this year including a Category 4 hurricane. 

Of course, this all comes down to following the science. And if our physicians are now taking climate change as seriously as they are the pandemic, then shouldn’t we be doing the same?


A regular contributor to HPAC Engineering and a member of its editorial advisory board since 2012, Larry Clark, LEED AP, O+M, is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability. Email him at [email protected].

About the Author

Larry Clark

A member of HPAC Engineering’s Editorial Advisory Board, Lawrence (Larry) Clark, QCxP, GGP, LEED AP+, is principal of Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a South Florida-based engineering firm focused on energy and sustainability consulting. He has more than two dozen published articles on HVAC- and energy-related topics to his credit and frequently lectures on green-building best practices, central-energy-plant optimization, and demand-controlled ventilation.