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Pediatricians back calls to action on climate change

By YADIRA CARAVEO, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Oct. 1, 2013 at 12:04 AM   |   Comments

DENVER, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Mother Nature continues to give Americans a taste of a very real threat of climate change -- more extreme natural disasters.

This year alone, we have already experienced some of the worst and deadly wildfires as well as ongoing droughts, not to mention floods of epic proportions.

My native state of Colorado was just dealt the full force of a 1,000-year flood, which started Sept. 11. The torrential rains broke Boulder's September 1995 record of 9.59 inches with a staggering 17.17 inches of rain.

As of Sept. 24, the Colorado Office of Emergency Management confirmed that eight people had died; the floods destroyed more than 2,000 homes and 200 miles of roads and highways.

There is now no question -- this situation is in our hands and we must act.

In fact, just last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that states "scientists are now 95 percent sure that climate change is caused by humans."

This is a groundbreaking moment that proves we can and must do something about the catastrophic weather patterns that have been battering us across the globe. More locally however, we can focus on what this changing climate does to our children and their health.

As a pediatrician, the health of our children has always been my priority so when I got word that the White House had selected me as a "Champion of Change" for my work protecting children's health and advocating against climate change, I was honored beyond words, but I also saw it as a call to arms.

After all, as a doctor, I didn't enter the profession seeking national praise; my goal has always been to give back to the community and being trusted with the health of my patients has always been honor enough. But what I've also understood is that this work often had to go beyond the clinic or exam room to the home, the school and often all the way to Washington.

But it will take more than just my voice. We all need to clamor about how smog clouds that can accumulate in valleys across the country, especially on extremely hot days, can ensure that emergency rooms will experience drastically more visits from parents of children with asthma.

To pediatricians who work in these climates, it has become obvious that the hotter the day the thicker the smog; the thicker the smog, the more sick children we would all see. So the thought of hotter temperatures becoming more and more commonplace due to climate change is deeply concerning. This is what we need to underscore to our leaders in Washington.

The National Climatic Data Center said the warmest year on record for the United States was 2012, a year in which 356 heat records were tied or broken. We know that climate change will increase the likeliness and intensity of extreme heat days.

Latinos and other vulnerable populations are especially at risk and disproportionately affected. The Centers for Disease Control states that nearly 50 percent of Latinos live in counties that regularly violate air pollution standards. Pollutants like ground-level ozone can reach unhealthful levels when the weather is hot and sunny with little or no wind.

As a pediatrician, I am especially concerned about this because children, due to their size, faster heart rates and immature systems, have lungs and brains that are more vulnerable to toxins in our air, water and environment.

I am especially encouraged by and supportive of the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement Sept. 20 of carbon standards for new power plants, a critical first step in U.S. President Barack Obama's climate change plan.

Together with better fuel economy standards established by EPA in 2011 for passenger and heavy-duty vehicles, limits on carbon pollution will help us prevent the hotter days that worsen asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

And it seems that most Americans agree. The nonpartisan Georgetown Climate Center, and the Georgetown Public Policy Institute said 87 percent of Americans support some type EPA action on the issue, including 78 percent of Republicans asked and 94 percent of Democrats.

None of us can afford delayed action on climate action -- especially our children; the recent floods are an unavoidable alarm.

That's why I remain committed to continue to speak out on this issue. That is the task at hand and I invite others trusted with caring for our health to add your voice to the fight against climate change.

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(Dr. Yadira Caraveo has been an advocate since medical school. Through a leadership program with the National Hispanic Medical Association she became involved with the work of the Union of Concerned Scientists and Voces Verdes. She works as a general pediatrician in the Denver metro area, where she was born and raised.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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