Science & Research

Whitehouse urges action on climate change

R.I. senator describes effects of climate change on public health, calls for Congressional action

Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse called for Congress to “wake up” to the consequences of climate change in a Salomon 101 lecture Monday.

The United States needs to wake up to the issue of climate change, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told approximately 75 students, faculty members and community members Monday afternoon.

The crowd gathered in Salomon 101 to hear his lecture after the Public Health Research Day poster session, during which students displayed their research.

Climate change “has a significant effect on our health,” Whitehouse told The Herald. Citing asthma as an example, he explained that warming global temperatures are increasing the duration of the pollen season, thereby increasing risks for asthmatics, as pollen can trigger asthma attacks.

Whitehouse elaborated further on climate change’s consequences for asthmatics during his lecture, which was introduced by both Terrie Fox Wetle, dean of the School of Public Health, and President Christina Paxson.

Paxson explained that Whitehouse gives a speech about climate change every week the Senate is in session, having delivered 64 of these speeches over the past two years. He also travels across the country to spread his message, she said.

“This year’s Public Health Research Day delves into the health and well-being of people here in Rhode Island, across the country and around the world, as it is affected by the unprecedented levels of carbon we have launched into our atmosphere and oceans,” Whitehouse said in his lecture.

Whitehouse described the evidence for and effects of climate change, citing examples such as local scientific studies, state agency farming forecasts and the vulnerability of infrastructure to rising sea levels. “This is the kind of ground truth that can help us cut through the corporate propaganda churned out by polluted interests to obscure the crisis before us,” he said.

Data from the constituents in politicians’ home states may reach those “who readily and comfortably ignore intergovernmental scientific panels and environmental advocacy groups,” he added.

Whitehouse then discussed a variety of examples that show how climate change affects public health. In addition to the lengthier and more intense pollen season brought on by global warming, Whitehouse described the correlation between higher temperatures and algae blooms, which can lead to “red tides.” These red tides decrease oxygen and sunlight levels in water and create toxins. Shellfish may consume these toxins, which then poison humans who eat the shellfish, he said.

Whitehouse also explained that warming temperatures extend the season during which parasite-carrying bugs like mosquitos threaten humans.  “With longer summers and shorter winters, we’ll face more exposure to these pests and the diseases they carry,” Whitehouse said. He added that this issue is already affecting forests in the western United States, where pine beetles are parasitic to their trees.

Higher temperatures also mean higher sea levels, which have already destroyed homes in places like South Kingstown, Whitehouse said.

Climate change also increases the probability of extreme weather, such as tropical storms and heat waves, both of which are major threats to public health and safety, Whitehouse added.

He also noted that health consequences may instigate conflict, and in that way climate change threatens security. A shortage of resources like food and space may cause competition, which can lead to conflicts such as civil wars, he explained.

“The health consequences around the world will actually be graver than at home, grave enough to lead to dislocation and conflict in less wealthy and resilient societies,” Whitehouse said.

Whitehouse quoted Secretary of State John Kerry, who has described climate change as a weapon of mass destruction: “Climate change, if left unchecked, will wipe out many more communities from the face of the Earth.”

Whitehouse finished his lecture with a call for action. “Congress is asleep, and it is time for Congress to wake up.”

“We have a responsibility here that relates to more than just the chemistry and the physics of climate change. … This is our responsibility. It is our generation’s responsibility. Indeed it’s more than that — it’s our duty, so it is indeed time to wake up,” Whitehouse added, concluding the lecture and opening the floor for questions.

“It was refreshing to see how much our senator is passionate” about climate change and health, said Melissa Clark, professor of epidemiology and obstetrics and gynecology, who attended the lecture.

While introducing the lecture, Wetle noted that the relationship between health and the environment — this year’s theme for Public Health Research Day — is “increasingly evident.”

Wetle, an organizer for Public Health Research Day, told The Herald that preparations for the event began eight months ago. Approximately 75 people, including both undergraduate and graduate students, applied to present at the poster session, and about 50 were accepted,Wetle said. The organizers accepted more than originally planned because of the large number of entries, she added.

  • Special K

    Readers are aware, of course, that the International Panel on Climate Change
    (IPCC) has released its most recent report, noting that ” . . . Countries of the world have dragged their feet so long on global warming that only an intensive push in the next 15 years can stave off potential disaster.. ..”

    Back in Nov. 2007, we were similarly informed by the panel (recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Al Gore):
    U.N. Report Describes Risks of Inaction on Climate Change By

    But a seldom heeded statement, by the IPCC Chairman, accompanying release of the 2007 report, is worth noting (by the White House and Sen. Whitehouse): “ . .Said Rajendra Pachauri, a scientist and economistwho heads the IPCC, ‘If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment’.”

    If Chairman Pachauri was right in 2007, it’s already too late to stop CC—and, of course, he assumes we mortals have it in our power to do so. As to the validity of that assumption, quien sabe? Agnosticism seems in order.

    However, assuming we have the power, according to a theoretically trustworthy source

    whatever the U.S.does or doesn’t do to exercise it won’t have much impact beyond our borders. According to James Hansen, NASA GISS director: “The contiguous 48 states cover only 1.5 percent of the world area, so the United States’ temperature does not affect the global temperature much,”

    It would seem to be evident that “clilmatology” has become a politicized science. We can only hope that a majority of ordinary folk and responsible poliltical leaders will continue to resist the notion that mankind has the power to control climate change by taking action to reduce production of greenhouse gasses from all sources, including flatulence in bovines.

    Reduction of flatulence in bovines in the U.S. has been in the news recently (e.g., March 30, 2014). see also

    • John Doe

      Readers ought to be aware that the quotes from the above message, were from the Executive Summary of the IPCC report, which, bears no real relation to the actual report.

      • Brown Alum

        Climate change . . . the successor appellation given to global warming once leftists were forced to concede that the earth hasn’t warmed over the last 17 years, the Himalayan glaciers haven’t melted, the predicted 50 million “climate refugees” didn’t materialize, and the polar bears are still swimming in the Arctic in stable numbers. Can anyone say Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, or Turkey Lurkey? To say that “climatology” is a “politicized science” is like saying that liberals love taxes.

        • John Doe

          It is interesting to read the executive summary, which I assume is the only part of the IPCC report that any of the believers read, as it is almost 180 degrees away form what is in the actual report. It is like there are two documents, one the actual report, which says there is no appreciable warming, the other, the executive summary, which is always quoted, which states that we are all going to die. Like there is two agendas going on here.

      • Special K

        Why on earth should an Executive Summary be expected to reflect accurately the contents of a report?