The U.S. Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the health costs of climate change, on April 26.
The health costs of oil and gas use are rising, said Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in his opening statement.
“Health care costs related to the combustion of fossil fuels are estimated to total nearly $820 billion in the U.S., annually,” Whitehouse said. “Over the ten-year budget window, that’s over $8 trillion.”
In addition to the direct costs of medical care, there are indirect costs to the U.S. economy, said Whitehouse.
“The indirect economic costs—from lost work and school days, reduced productivity, and increased economic instability—all add to that $8 trillion burden,” said Whitehouse. “If you care about (government) deficits and economic growth, you have to care about climate change and its costs and risks.”
Climate change is making all sorts of weather events worse, stated witness Katelyn Moretti, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, in written testimony she read at the hearing.
“Climate change is a threat multiplier with health impacts happening through a variety of mechanisms, including worsening temperature extremes, wildfires, coastal storms, spikes in air pollution, and vector-borne diseases, as well as disruptions to supply chains, safe housing, safe working conditions, safe water, nutrition, and health care,” said Moretti. (emphasis in the original)
Mission Creep Epidemic
We should be cautious before expanding the scope of “public health” beyond what can reasonably be managed by a federal agency, based on our experience with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the recent pandemic, Carl J. Schramm, Ph.D., J.D, a professor at Syracuse University, testified at the hearing.
“[T]he CDC, the nation’s principal agency charged with protecting public health, failed to effectively control the COVID pandemic,” said Schramm. “I believe the principal reason is that both the CDC and the larger public health establishment, reflecting in part the initiatives of Congress and major philanthropies, have expanded the scope and definition of public health such that its boundaries are nearly meaningless to the public.”
The CDC has become involved in too many areas that have nothing to do with disease, said Schramm.
“The CDC currently deals with a wide range of problems that are not encompassed by the traditional definition of public health, which is ‘the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health,’” Schramm said. “Instead, it deals with a long list of ‘epidemics’ that are not related to communicable pathogens and cannot be corrected by traditional public health tools. Among these ‘epidemics’ are gun deaths, traffic fatalities, obesity, domestic violence, workplace violence, and a long list of issues distant from traditional public health threats.”
The CDC is beset with “mission creep,” but “…even if global warming presented a clear and present danger to the health of every American, there is little the CDC can do to mitigate such a threat,” Schramm told the committee.
Human Consequences of Policy
There is a real threat to public health from ill-conceived policies designed to combat climate change, says Craig Rucker, president of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.
“Data from around the world show that far more people die from extreme cold than from extreme heat,” said Rucker. “The world’s most vulnerable people are those who lack access to reliable and affordable energy. In the Global South, hundreds of millions of people still heat their homes and cook their food using dung or wood. The resulting air quality is terrible, and it shortens life expectancy.”
The plight of the poor is ignored by policymakers from rich, developed countries, says Rucker.
“These people’s concerns are rarely heard at high-brow global climate conferences, where schemes are cooked up that lower agricultural productivity, deepen malnutrition, and perpetuate poverty,” said Rucker.
Bonner Russell Cohen, Ph.D. (email@example.com) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.