Published: 10/26/2021

Letter calls on the United States Congress to swiftly enact legislation approving urgently needed climate measures to protect human health.

Calling the climate crisis a “human health emergency,” more than 180 members of the prestigious National Academy of Medicine (NAM) have sent a petition to Congress asking lawmakers to act immediately to prevent the most dire risks to human health posed by climate change.

The petition, submitted Tuesday, Oct. 26, asks that lawmakers take several significant steps as Congress readies the final Infrastructure and Reconciliation bills:

  • Implement a carbon pollution fee for industry polluters that increases over time;
  • Impose leakage fees on industries that allow the escape of methane gas into the atmosphere;
  • Demand industries cut carbon emissions up front rather than by offsetting through carbon capture and sequestration; and
  • Provide tax or other incentives for clean energy technology

“This letter represents many of our nation’s most respected physicians telling lawmakers that we are facing an unprecedented health crisis if we don’t act quickly. Now is the time to take significant action to prevent the most catastrophic impacts on our health and wellbeing from climate change,” said Michele Barry, MD, director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health at the Stanford School of Medicine.

Barry chairs NAM’s climate change interest group (Climate IG-19) and spearheaded the petition along with Jonathan Patz, MD, Director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Patz is the vice-chair of IG-19.

“The science tells us we have a very narrow window to avert a worsening of climate disasters. Therefore, we strongly urge Congress to swiftly enact meaningful legislation that addresses the climate crisis; with time running out, such action on climate will save lives and prevent human suffering,” Patz said.

The petition includes signatures of 105 members of the National Academy of Medicine. It was written and signed by individual members and is not an official letter of the Academy, which does not take political positions or lobby.

It follows the recent release of several reports outlining the threat to human health posed by climate change. Most recently, the 2021 report by the Lancet Countdown project, issued Oct. 20, sounded the alarm about a “code red” for a healthy future caused by key health-related climate trends worsening as a result of government inaction.

The sixth assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that “the science is unequivocal” on the human influence on the Earth’s climate and impacts are already being experienced today.

The petition cites the effects of greenhouse gas emissions documented by members of NAM and colleagues around the world: fires in the West, hurricanes in the South, flooding in the eastern states, droughts throughout the world, and heat waves of unparalleled intensity and length.

“These disasters have led to increases in asthma, heat mortality, acute injuries, starvation, infectious diseases, mental health problems and mass displacement of peoples and the resultant national security and public health threats to our nation,” the letter states.

View the full letter below.