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Doctors see climate change as dire health threat

Published: Friday, Oct. 23 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

A coalition of Utah physicians and medical professionals are calling climate change the single biggest global threat to public health and stress its dire impacts will have far-reaching consequences for the state.

In a panel discussion Thursday at the University of Utah School of Medicine, physicians warned of increased dust storms with greater intensity, longer fire seasons, decreased air quality and periods of drought followed by torrential rainstorms.

All that combines to create greater incidence of health problems caused by dirty air, reduced food supplies and an increase in vector-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease.

"We think this has become as much a moral imperative for the protection of future generations as it is to prevent all-out nuclear war," said Dr. Brian Moench, president of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

That organization joined the Utah Climate Center and several doctors who describe their event as a bottom-up, grass-roots call for change.

Moench said copies of the presentation, which explores climate change impacts such as dust, ozone, food supply and the spread of disease, will be e-mailed to all 104 state legislators in an effort to abandon humility and urge policy reform.

"Utah is one of the few states actively fighting the future, looking in the rearview mirror," said Dr. Howie Garber, an emergency room physician.

Garber said climate change should be thought of in this way:

"The Earth is our home, it has developed a heavy smoking habit and we have been lighting the cigarettes. We must open the windows, put away the ashtrays, hide the matches and stop supplying the cigarettes."

Among the group's requests for action are:

For the governor to develop a statewide plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020

That the plan would include adoption of the 55, 65,75, program: drive 55 mph, turn thermostats down to 65 in winter, up to 75 or higher in summer;

Implement serious water conservation efforts;

Incorporation of greenhouse gas science into core curriculum of junior high and high schools;

Statewide adoption of a strategy to save farmland from housing development and water diversion schemes that threaten agriculture.

The coalition of medical professionals also detailed a number of "lifestyle" changes Utah residents should rapidly adopt, including buying local, reducing consumption of meat and replacing grass where possible with gardens, fruit trees and certain species of shade trees such as linden, red maple and ponderosa pine.

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

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