Remember how CDC officials abruptly cancelled their long-planned climate and health summit right before President Donald Trump took office? Well, an unofficial version featuring many of the same speakers will happen Thursday in Atlanta.
After word spread last month of the summit’s cancellation, a group of advocates — led by former Vice President Al Gore — scrambled to put on an one-day version of the original three-day conference so experts in public health, public policy, and climate science could gather to talk about global warming and its impact on public health. Former President Jimmy Carter, a longtime advocate for global health issues, offered to host the rescheduled meeting at the Carter Center in Atlanta. The event is being sponsored, in part, by the Turner Foundation, which makes grants for environmental work.
The American Public Health Association’s Dr. Georges Benjamin, one of the original meeting’s co-organizers, previously said the Trump administration did not tell them to cancel the event. He told the Associated Press that the conference was cancelled in anticipation of an unenthusiastic administration. He told STAT that he hopes the event will show the public that global warming is an issue that is “not only an inconvenience, but one affecting their health.”
For instance, Benjamin said, not enough people make the connection between pollution and asthma attacks — or that higher temperatures lead to more heat waves that, in turn, increase the risk of heart attacks.
The Trump administration “can pretend like climate change is not here, but it’s going to happen anyway,” Benjamin said. “These are [health issues] people see everyday. People will see more of that.”
The Harvard Global Health Institute’s Dr. Ashish Jha, a co-organizer of the Thursday meeting, said a goal of the summit is to make the consequences of climate change seem more tangible to the average person.
“A person might say, ‘if it’s 35 degrees today, and 37 tomorrow, I’m not so bothered.'” Jha told STAT. “But the notion that it’ll harm our health, our children’s health, will connect those dots much more closely.”
Despite not being an official CDC meeting, at least two researchers scheduled to speak have listed their affiliation with the CDC on the meeting’s agenda. Dr. Patrick Breysse, director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, will introduce a speech. Dr. George Luber, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, will participate in a panel titled, “Protecting Public Health from Climate-Related Threats.”
Bernadette Burden, a senior press officer with the CDC, declined to make either Breysee or Luber available for an interview. She did say, however, that agency officials are looking to reschedule the official meeting with respect to budget priorities later this year.
The conference, which kicks off tomorrow at 9 a.m., can be live streamed here.