‘We have to do something’: Nevada County physicians discuss how climate change will damage humans and the Earth | TheUnion.com

‘We have to do something’: Nevada County physicians discuss how climate change will damage humans and the Earth

A few nights ago Nevada County public health officer and physician Ken Cutler discussed the precautionary principal.

In essence, Cutler explained that when an idea holds scientific uncertainty, one should urge on the side of caution and prevention — not avoidance or rejection.

The physician was referring specifically to how humans address climate change, and advocated people try to prevent intimidating cascades associated with the phenomenon.

Cutler was speaking alongside three other physicians from a spate of different backgrounds to discuss the effects of climate change Wednesday night at the Nevada Theatre.

“The two big concepts are: we need to adapt and we need to mitigate.” —Nevada County Public Health Officer Ken Cutler

“The two big concepts are: we need to adapt and we need to mitigate,” said Cutler.


Ten years ago, The Lancet medical journal declared climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”

Four physicians took heed of the warning Wednesday night, and encouraged others to do so as well.

Cutler referred to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, a report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which states the most vulnerable will be most affected by a changing climate.

“Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth,” wrote the report’s authors.

Cutler agreed.

“So the people that are going to suffer most are those who already have chronic health conditions; those who suffer from poverty; those who have unstable housing; those who have fewer supports,” he said.

Climate change acts like a warm blanket over us, said Cutler. As we emit more greenhouse gases, the layer of heat overhead thickens, thereby increasing temperature.

“We have more destructive, greater sized, faster fires,” said Cutler. “The Paradise fire was moving a football field every couple of seconds.”

The county officer acknowledged there are many contributors to wildfires, but that climate change heightens the risk.

Internist Dr. Brad Miller, who works in hospice and palliative medicine, said rising sea levels could flood cities and destroy local economies.

By 2100, over 500,000 Californians living along the coast are at risk of being washed away or displaced due to floods, according to a recent report from U.S. Geological Survey scientists.

What lives in the ocean itself is in peril.

At about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, the ocean has sucked up more than one-fourth of the carbon emitted by humans and absorbed 90 percent of global warming’s excess heat, according to David Wallace-Wells book “The Uninhabitable Earth.” The result has been ocean acidification, destroying coral reefs and fish populations, which hurts local fish economies and societies that rely on seafood.

“Off the coasts of Australia, fish populations have declined an estimated 32 percent in just ten years,” wrote Wallace-Wells.

Droughts too will worsen, said Miller, referencing the worst drought in 900 years that swept across the Middle East in 1998.

West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease, said Miller, will increasingly become a threat to people in higher latitudes, like the United States.

In his grandchildren’s lifetime, about 30 years from now, Miller said estimated heat-related deaths will climb from 100 to about 300 per year. Smog and particulate matter coupled with wildfire smoke is projected to diminish air quality, he said.

“It impacts people especially with chronic conditions,” said Miller, possibly leading to premature death, asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and more heart attacks.

Pediatrician and climate advocate Dr. Sarah Woerner said the number of heat stroke related deaths of student athletes doubled in the last 10 years in part due to global warming. Emergency Room visits, she said, are expected to increase 10 percent in the next half century due to heat-related issues.

Allergies have significantly increased because of the changing climate, said Woerner, as there is more pollen in the area.

‘Hold their feet to the fire’

Despite the barrage of bad news, Miller tried to be optimistic.

“We have a very powerful drive to protect our homes, our families and our careers,” said Miller, which should encourage us to do things, both granular and expansive, to combat climate change.

“We have to do something,” Woerner said in agreement. “We don’t have a choice not to do something.”

Dr. Roger Hicks, medical director of Yubadocs and Wednesday night’s host, suggested voting for climate conscious politicians on the local, state and national level.

“And when they are elected,” he said, “hold their feet to the fire.”

Topics on climate are increasingly reaching the mainstream, said Hicks, becoming among the top concerns for the U.S. military.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was the first presidential candidate to put climate change at the top of his agenda, and for the first time a Democratic debate was focused exclusively on the topic. Inslee has since dropped out of the race,

Hicks suggested people overlap their monied interests and personal values: make climate conscious investments in solar, wind and renewable energy projects, he said, advocating that those producing fossil fuels should also pay higher costs for the negative externality they create.

“More money can be made in addressing climate change than in continuing to make it worse,” he said.

Cutler suggested reducing emissions by driving less, biking more, eating locally and increasing plant-based consumption.

Toward the event’s end a new organization was introduced.

The Sunrise Movement, a youth climate activist group with hubs across the United States, has come to Nevada County. Introduced by Hicks at the event, a group of Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning students recently initiated the local chapter.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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