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Dr Frank Houghton, Director of HEALR Research Group, Limerick Institute of Technology, pens an open letter on the implications of overlooking climate change for our health.

On Monday 18th December 2017, President of the USA, Donald Trump, officially removed climate change as a threat included in his national security strategy (NSS). This move is hardly surprising given his longstanding attitude towards global warming. It should be noted that in 2012 Donald Trump stated that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”.

Since then the US President has led the USA’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. As even war-torn Syria joined the Paris Accord in November 2017, the USA now stands as the only country on the planet not committed to this agreement. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord is in line with his long-time support for America’s embattled coal industry, and his Presidential orders insisting that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) remove references to climate change from its website.

Given the widely accepted veracity of concerns over climate change, it is perhaps hard to understand its removal from the NSS. However, it should be remembered that this same Presidential regime has now effectively also banned a number of routine phrases including both ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based’ from documents prepared by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Although Trump’s removal of climate change from the latest US national Security Strategy (NSS) may come as no surprise given his other recent actions, this does not reduce the significant impact of the action. The NSS is a crucial document which focuses attention and prioritises resources towards particular issues and threats. As such, its removal will inevitably reduce both funding and focus from this significant issue.

Global warming, or climate change, or variability as it is now more often described, has significant adverse implications for population health. Examining infectious disease in particular, it is anticipated that global warming will lead to significant increases in water- and foodborne infectious diseases and vector-borne infectious diseases.

Although there is debate about the net impact of global warming on infectious disease, given the potential for extinctions as well as expansion, it will undoubtedly lead to changes in health threats. Current evidence suggests that most countries are poorly prepared to respond to the emerging health threat of changing environmental conditions.

In some ways it is difficult as a Public Health professional to know how to conceptualise an appropriate response to ideological and populist politically motivated actions, such as the removal by President Trump of Climate Change as an explicit threat from the US National Security Strategy.

The threat posed by infectious disease to the security of all countries is widely accepted. However, in an era of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’, voices of caution and reason are drowned out and rhetoric often dominates.

Even if President Trump is unwilling to learn from the actions of his immediate predecessor, President Obama, rather than retreating from dealing with emerging health threats he would do well to consider the actions of a prior Republican, President Bush, who explicitly included HIV/Aids as a focus in his 2002 National Security Strategy.

Yours,

Dr Frank Houghton

Public Health Geographer & Lecturer

Limerick Institute of Technology