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Georgia Doctor: Fight Climate Change, Fight for Your Health

Experts say smoke from wildfires is only one of the health impacts of climate change. (Josh O'Connor - USFWS/Flickr) <br /><br /><br />
Experts say smoke from wildfires is only one of the health impacts of climate change. (Josh O'Connor - USFWS/Flickr) <br /><br /><br />
ATLANTA - Doctors and nurses take an oath to protect their patients from harm, and so thousands now are speaking out about the health threats posed by climate change.

Dr. Anne Mellinger-Birdsong of Atlanta, medical education advisor for Mothers and Others for Clean Air, is among the 4,300 medical professionals who signed a "Dear Patient" letter, which she said encourages patients to demand action on climate change.

"It's asking them to look for leaders who are protecting our health and climate, that prioritize the health of us now, and future generations," she said, "and asks leaders to listen to health experts, climate scientists and the communities that are already impacted."

Within just a few years of reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, she said, health benefits emerge. She pointed to a study of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast that found that efforts to lower air pollution between 2009 and 2014 resulted in lower rates of childhood asthma, autism and low birthweight, preterm births.

Mellinger-Birdsong said hotter temperatures spurred by the changing climate can cause heat strokes and worsen asthma, and the smoke that drifts from the mountains in north Georgia and Tennessee damages the lungs and can cause heart attacks and strokes.

"In Georgia, we've had several destructive hurricanes that had their force amplified by climate change, which has destroyed and flooded buildings," she said. "It damaged actual health-care clinics. It's damaged agriculture, which affects people's livelihoods, which affects their health."

While the climate crisis is multi-faceted, Mellinger-Birdsong said, at its core is the movement away from fossil fuels.

"We need to speed up the transition to clean energy, and that will create a lot of new jobs," she said, "but we need to support the workers in coal, oil and gas, so that they're not just left high and dry with no job."

She noted that low-income communities and communities of color in Georgia are among the populations that disproportionately bear the health impacts of climate change.