Medical groups call climate change a 'health emergency' ahead of Democratic debate

Dozens of medical and public health groups described climate change as a "true public health emergency" requiring "urgent action" ahead of the first Democratic primary debate of the 2020 election cycle.

"The health, safety and well-being of millions of people in the U.S. have already been harmed by human-caused climate change, and health risks in the future are dire without urgent action to fight climate change," the organizations wrote in an introduction to the agenda that was released Tuesday.

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The policy agenda endorsed by groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Heart Association included a call to “meet and strengthen U.S. commitments” under the 2015 United Nations climate agreement from which Trump has vowed to withdraw. It also called for a transition "away from the use of coal, oil and natural gas to clean, safe and renewable energy and energy efficiency.

FILE - A coal-fired power plant in Glenrock, Wyo. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

FILE - A coal-fired power plant in Glenrock, Wyo. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

The groups are also pushing for some form of carbon pricing, although without any reference to potential taxation of emissions, and “a plan and timeline for reduction of fossil fuel extraction in the U.S.” However, they do not join some Democratic candidates in calling for an outright ban on the oil and gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into rock.

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Other groups signing onto the list of climate policy priorities include the American Lung Association, the American College of Physicians and multiple state-level and academic public health organizations.

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Ed Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University said that speaking about climate change as a public health issue can give Americans a new perspective on viewing the subject.

“It’s incredibly helpful when health professionals point out the actual reality of the situation, point out that this is also a threat to our health and well-being now… and it’s likely to get worse, much worse if we don’t take action to address it,” he said.

Fox News' Morgan Cheung and The Associated Press contributed to this report.