The world’s climate and weather processes do not care about your political views. The reality of climate change is that human livelihoods and well-being are harmed by our inaction, and people are dying.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the first 11 months of 2016 are the second warmest on record, exceeded only by the same time period in 2012. In recent years, dozens of U.S. cities have shattered heat and rainfall records. The National Weather Service reported dozens of heat-related deaths in 2015 and 176 deaths from flash and river floods, more than double the 10-year average. In other parts of the world, particularly in India, thousands of people died in 2015 due to extreme heat. Climate modelers estimate that global warming greatly increases the likelihood of heat waves, and in some cases it may be “virtually impossible” to rule out the role of warming.

Make no mistake about it: Climate change is deadly. The World Health Organization predicts climate change will cause at least 250,000 excess global deaths per year by 2030 from just four causes: malnutrition, diarrheal diseases, malaria, and heat stress. Failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is predicted to worsen U.S. infant mortality by 2050. The Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change calls climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century” and in its 2015 report declared that all future climate change scenarios “expose the global population to worsening health consequences.”

Many deadly and debilitating diseases are linked to climate change, include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and the world. Maine has the highest COPD rate in New England and a rate significantly higher than the national average. Insect-borne diseases like Lyme disease are strongly climate-sensitive, and Maine and Vermont report Lyme disease incidence rates well above all other states and the national average. Additional health threats relate to food- and water-borne diseases, malnutrition, food scarcity, adverse mental health outcomes and human displacement.

In a 2016 report entitled “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment,” the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) showed that climate change is already hurting the health of Americans. The USGCRP, composed of 13 federal agencies, including the departments of State, Defense, Commerce, and Health and Human Services, was established by President George H.W. Bush in 1989 and mandated by Congress in 1990. According to this report, “climate change is happening now [and has] already resulted in a wide range of impacts across every region of the country and many sectors of the economy.” The World Economic Forum identified “failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation” as the No. 1 risk to the global economy in 2016.

What is the greatest threat to public health is also an opportunity to envision and design healthier communities. This requires local, state and national action, including on the part of governments. Countries all over the world have taken action to combat climate change because they know from the world’s leading scientists that inaction has disastrous consequences and affects us all. Nearly every country in the world signed the Paris Agreement on climate action and most of them have ratified it. For the next U.S. administration to turn a blind and ignorant eye to climate change runs counter to what the entire world has acknowledged and begun to act on. It also condemns Americans and people all over the world to a premature death.

Gail Carlson, Ph.D., teaches environmental public health courses in the Environmental Studies program at Colby College.

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