Letter to the editor: Health effects of climate change

It was 1983, ticks were exotic creatures in Enosburg Falls on the Canadian border where I practiced pediatrics. My 8-year-old patient presented with a flu-like illness and a bizarre rash. I had seen photos in medical journals of this unique, giant bulls-eye rash that could only be Lyme Disease. But there was no Lyme Disease in Vermont.
That boy was the canary in the coalmine. By 1991 the Vermont Dept. of Health identified seven cases of Lyme statewide — in 2017 the number was 1,092 — the highest rate of Lyme in the nation. The cause, climate change.
A warming New England has enlarged the habitats of animals spreading diseases never seen in Vermont. In addition to Lyme, ticks, fleas and mosquitoes have brought us Anaplasmosis (a potentially fatal disease spread by ticks) — three cases in 2008; 201 cases in 2017. Eastern Equine Encephalitis, mosquito-borne, was first detected in Vermont, in Addison Co. in 2012. Vermonters are now contracting Babesiosis (malaria-like parasitic disease), Powassan Virus (Encephaltis and meningitis — 1 percent of Vermont ticks are infected with the virus). The first human case in the U.S. of West Nile Encephalitis was in 1999. Now the virus is found in mosquitoes in every Vermont county.
Health effects go beyond infectious diseases.
The 2018 National Climate Assessment — the product of 13 federal agencies — warns of record wildfires, crop failures in the Midwest, crumbling infrastructure in the South, floods in the upper Midwest and Northeast, drought with water and food scarcity, heat waves and heat-related deaths, sea level rise, and disease outbreaks.
The U.N.’s 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), urges a global commitment to move away from fossil fuels and remove carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere (not just reduction of future emissions) to prevent irreversible effects that would have devastating consequences across the globe. Drought, poor quality crops, more pests, more reliance on fertilizer and pesticides, more severe storms, fisheries collapse and rising oceans from warmer, more acidic oceans will produce climate refugees and migration.
I’m a physician, a scientist. I am evidence-based. There is virtually unanimous scientific agreement about the human causes of climate change and the urgent need for us to reverse it. The science is settled.  Our Earth is experiencing a global climate emergency. We are like the proverbial frog in the kettle, being slowly boiled alive. Because the heating happens slowly, we don’t perceive the danger, until we are finally cooked to death. 
We must reverse this global boiling, and we can by acting locally. It has been said that if the people lead, the leaders will follow.  My wife Chip and I have joined with a citizen environmental group (350VT) and Middlebury College students from the Sunday Night Environmental Group to see what we can do about climate change. We’ve also discussed this with Middlebury’s Town Energy Committee and selectboard. 
This Town Meeting Day the citizens of Middlebury will vote (by Australian ballot on March 5) on two Climate Solutions Resolutions from 350VT, versions of which have been passed by 37 other Vermont Towns. These non-binding resolutions encourage local elected leaders to adhere to the State of Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan to achieve 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 as well as encouraging individual towns to implement renewable energy strategies and conservation. 
There will be a panel discussion and community conversation about the Climate Solutions Resolutions on Monday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. at the Ilsley Library in Middlebury. 
Our elected leaders need to know that Middlebury voters want them to act decisively to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren. We dare not delay. 
I certainly don’t want to diagnose any more strange diseases in Vermont. 
Jack Mayer

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