Press Release: Oregon Health Leaders Declare Climate Change A Public Health Emergency

Over 500 health professionals and more than a dozen leading health organizations in Oregon say climate change is a public health emergency in a statement released today. The Oregon Public Health Association, the Oregon Nurses Association, the Oregon Pediatric Society, the Oregon Coalition of Local Health Officials, Oregon Community Health Workers Association, the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility are among the over 40 health organizations calling on Oregon lawmakers to take actions to protect public health.

The ‘Call to Action’ brings attention to extreme weather events, wildfires, and droughts, that have increased in frequency and severity over the last decade leading to rising health risks in Oregon. “Climate change is again at the top of legislators minds as the 2020 session gets underway. As some of Oregon’s top health organizations, we want to make sure Oregon lawmakers know that climate change is more than just an environmental issue. It’s a public health emergency,” Jessica Nischik-Long, Executive Director of the Oregon Public Health Association (OPHA) said. “More extreme heat is resulting in more heat-related hospitalizations. More wildfire smoke is causing more asthma attacks.”

David Pollack MD, Professor Emeritus for Public Policy and Psychiatry at OHSU shared growing concerns among mental health professionals: “We’re not just talking about physical health effects.  The mental health effects are serious and include the impacts of extreme heat and air pollution.  Trauma and other mood and anxiety disturbances rise during and after extreme weather events, leading to individual and collective trauma within entire communities. Clinicians report that many patients, including children and adolescents, are worried about the future. Anxiety and depression conditions induced by the climate crisis are emerging, including eco-anxiety and ecological grief.”

“I have anxiety about this,” says Izzy Ventura Meda, Executive Director of Familias en Accion, a community-based organization that works to strengthen the health and well-being of Latino families in Oregon. “Our rural communities, farmworkers, communities of color, and low-income communities; these are the people, and families, on the front lines of the climate crisis. Like many other communities, Oregon's Latino community is concerned about what climate change means for our health and the health of our children.”

The ‘Call to Action’ makes it clear that actions to reduce climate change can dramatically improve health. The Call to Action states that climate action in the energy, transportation, land use, housing, agricultural, and other sectors has the potential to avoid millions of preventable deaths each year globally and promise significant health care cost savings.

Dr. Jennifer Vines, lead Health Officer for the Portland-Metro region, also emphasized the connection to equity. “Climate change is threatening our air, our water and our food. Those  changes will lead to serious public health challenges,” she said. “Major health disparities already exist here in Oregon and climate change will almost certainly make these disparities worse. This is a crisis, but our response to climate change is also an opportunity to build healthier, more equitable communities.”

The Oregon Call to Action on Climate, Health, and Equity calls out 10 specific policy priorities:

  1. Meet and strengthen Oregon’s greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments.
  2. Transition to clean, safe, and renewable energy.
  3. Increase investment in active transportation.
  4. Build local, healthy, and sustainable food and agricultural systems.
  5. Ensure that all Oregonians have access to safe and affordable drinking water.
  6. Invest in policies that support a just transition for workers.
  7. Engage the health sector voice in climate policy and action.
  8. Incorporate climate solutions into all health care and public health systems.
  9. Ensure that those most impacted have the voice, power, and capacity to be full partners in building a healthy, equitable, and climate resilient future.
  10. Invest in climate and health.

Editor’s Note: The Oregon Call to Action on Climate, Health and Equity and a two page summary are available at: https://www.oregonpublichealth.org/call-to-action-for-climate--health--and-equity

 

The following list of spokespeople are available for interviews:

Jessica Nischik-Long, MPH, Executive Director of the Oregon Public Health Association (OPHA) |  [email protected]

David Pollack, MD, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, OHSU School of Medicine | [email protected] 

Izzy Ventura Meda, Executive Director, Familias en Acción | [email protected]

Jennifer Vines, MD, MPH, Lead Health Officer for the tri-county region | [email protected]

 

Founded in 1944, the Oregon Public Health Association is a group of people committed to improving the health of all who reside in Oregon.  Many members have dedicated decades of their professional lives to this cause.  We are students, health educators, doctors, nurses, dentists, researchers, college and university faculty, community leaders, and citizens from all walks of life who share a commitment to public health in Oregon. Our membership includes individuals and organizations across the state, providing OPHA with a strong combination of grassroots support and technical expertise. We succeed by bringing together the power of our members with community organizing, coalition building, public and professional education, and advocacy. OPHA is an affiliate of the American Public Health Association, the largest public health association in the nation.

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