Increasing rates of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heat-induced illness and other maladies are strong indicators of the growing health impacts of climate change, according to experts at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. At an Oct. 26 roundtable discussion with U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, CU Anschutz and CU Boulder faculty and researchers shared perspectives of how the patients and populations they serve and study are uniquely impacted by the climate crisis.
‘This is not hypothetical’
“All of us who live here in Colorado have seen the impact of this issue. This discussion is about what meaningful changes can be made,” said John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, dean of the CU School of Medicine and vice chancellor for health affairs for the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
“We’re here to listen to the experiences of you, the health professional,” Crow said. “This is a crisis that's here. This is not the future; this is not hypothetical. I hear about increasing asthma rates, quality of life going down for a lot of folks in our community and it’s a real public health issue that's manifesting itself.”
About 20 people attended the forum that was hosted by the CU School of Medicine Climate & Health Program and Healthy Air & Water Colorado.
Caitlin Rublee, MD, MPH, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the CU School of Medicine and director of medical education for the new Climate & Health Program, explained how, as an emergency medicine physician, she sees the unresolved consequences of historical policies such as redlining that have reduced the access to healthcare in some neighborhoods. She noted that rates of asthma and COPD have been exacerbated by fossil fuel air pollution.
Workers, children and immigrants
Lee Newman, MD, MA, distinguished professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and director of the Center for Health, Work & Environment, told the congressman that “workers are the climate canaries” who are first to warn us that the changing climate is impacting our health.
Bhargavi Chekuri, MBBS, MD, MS, assistant professor of family medicine at the CU School of Medicine, and her colleagues spoke about the adverse health impacts, especially among children, that they see in their clinics. The group discussed how climate change is not only impacting children in the U.S., but also young climate migrators arriving from Latin American countries. Increasing numbers of unaccompanied minors are coming to the U.S. from heat-impacted regions in South America.
Rep. Crow said federal initiatives related to climate change and health include the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act which he considers a “monumental investment in addressing this issue, although it's still not going to be enough.” The congressmen mentioned his work in introducing the CLEAR Act – bipartisan legislation which authorizes a new grant program for states and tribes to create and maintain resilience offices and address climate-caused risks.
“I'm all ears,” Crow said. “I just want to hear from you all and understand what you are seeing and hearing so we can better legislate.”
“We know enough, we read enough, we keep talking about it,” Rublee said. “I think this is the new standard, where we sit around a table with policymakers, clinicians and scientists, not just talking the talk but walking the walk.”
Photo at top: Pictured from left are Megan Kemp, advocacy manager, Healthy Air & Water Colorado; U.S. Rep. Jason Crow; John. J. Reilly, Jr., MD, dean of the CU School of Medicine and vice chancellor for health affairs for the CU Anschutz Medical Campus; and Rosemary Rochford, PhD, professor of immunology and microbiology and co-director of the Climate & Health Program at the CU School of Medicine.