Environmentalists: Climate change may be hurting your health

Features Virginia Family Physician Dr. Janet Eddy

Climate change is bad for the planet – and may be bad for your health.

That’s the message that environmentalists, elected officials, and doctors shared at an event organized by the Virginia League of Conservation Voters on Saturday morning.

That message may become more prevalent in the near future, as environmental advocates seek action on climate change in an ever-more-skeptical political climate.

Janet Eddy, a Richmond-based family physician with Bon Secours Health System, told a crowd of around 25 that she has seen an uptick in rates of allergies and asthma since she started practicing 30 years ago.

“What I’m seeing is people who never had allergies, never had asthma and now they can’t breathe,” Eddy said.

Increased air pollution and higher concentrations of ground-level ozone, a phenomenon directly tied to increases in greenhouse gases and climate change, are to blame, she said.

Norfolk councilwoman Andria McClellan called the venue for the event, the Unitarian Church of Norfolk that sits along the Hague on Yarmouth Street, “ground zero” for climate change.

The roads around the church, and others in the city, often flood. McClellan praised local efforts to gather information and combat climate change, but said things like an Army Corps of Engineers study currently underway in Norfolk likely won’t go anywhere when seeking approval at the federal level.

President Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China and is now poised to slash the budget and staff of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to The Associated Press. Trump’s pick to lead the agency, Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt has been described as an ally of the fossil fuels industry.

“We have an EPA director who’s been named, not yet confirmed, who may not believe in climate science,” McClellan said.

McClellan talked about the importance of taking a different tack – talking not about the causes of climate change, which can be a flash point, but instead about potential problems like public health and the security of military facilities. Rather than arguing whether people are responsible for rising tides and temperatures, advocates should cite impacts that people can see and feel as the federal stance on climate change shifts, she said.

Eddy, the Bon Secours doctor, said Trump’s election prompted her to get out and start spreading the word on environmental dangers and the potential impacts on real people of continued climate change.

“Nagging isn’t the way to do it. I think it’s just to give people the facts and hitting it from all angles,” Eddy said.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam noted during the event that to secure a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant to help deal with Norfolk’s flooding problems, he was told that using the term “sea-level rise” was a “non-starter.”

“So I said ‘what about recurring flooding?’ and they said ‘yeah, that’s okay,’ ” Northam said.

Eddy isn’t thrilled that she and others will have to talk around the problem, “but if that’s what it takes, we’ll do it.”

Saturday’s event was the first time the Virginia League of Conservation Voters had held an event about public health issues related to climate change and included groups from the Sierra Club to the YMCA. Organizers said they plan to replicate the event in Richmond and elsewhere around the state.

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