A major conference on climate change and health scheduled for next month has been canceled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and some experts say politics was the reason.
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On Jan. 9, the CDC informed scheduled speakers by email that the Climate and Health Summit in Atlanta was canceled, but offered no explanation for the decision, the Washington Post reported.
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association and the scheduled keynote speaker at the conference, said the CDC decided to call off the event rather than risk crossing Donald Trump, who claims climate change is a "hoax" and has nominated climate change skeptics to his Cabinet.
"They ran it up the flagpole and realized that it was so close to the inauguration, the chances of it being canceled were pretty real with the administration that was coming in," Benjamin told the Post.
"Some might argue they should have said, 'We're going to do this and make them tell us no.' But that was the decision they made. We should think of this as a strategic retreat," said Benjamin, whose group was one of the conference's promoters.
Edward Maibach, director of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, was another scheduled speaker. He said the conference should have gone forward, and said the CDC's decision could set a precedent of government officials keeping quiet due to concerns about reprisals or loss of funding, rather than supporting the established science around climate change.
"I don't know why they canceled the meeting, but I do know the meeting was important and should have been held. Politics is politics, but protecting the health of our citizens is one of our government's most important obligations to us," Maibach said in an email to the Post.
"Climate change is bad for America, and bad for the world, in so many ways. One of these ways is that it is harming our health, already, and is likely to get much worse over the next few decades unless we take action. As the nation's public health agency, we need CDC to be fully engaged in protecting our health from climate change," Maibach said.
Experts warn that climate change could pose major health risks to people worldwide this century. A 45-author report published in The Lancet last year said aggressively dealing with climate change could be "the greatest global health opportunity of this century," but that not addressing the problem "threatens to undermine the last half century of gains in development and global health," the Post reported.
In a report released last summer, the Obama administration warned that climate change could lead to millions more deaths from extreme heat, more outbreaks of mosquito- and tick-borne diseases, longer allergy seasons, and thousands more premature deaths a year from respiratory problems caused by worsening air quality.
Benjamin said he hoped the CDC would reschedule the summit, but even if not, his organization and other groups will continue to alert people about the risk climate change poses to human health.
"We're committed to making sure the nation knows about the effects of climate change on health," he told the Post. "If anyone doesn't think this is a severe problem, they are fooling themselves."
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