Oversight Committee and Top Experts Examine New Data on the Health and Economic Impacts of Climate Change

Aug 5, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (Aug. 5, 2020)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a virtual hearing entitled “The Devastating Health Impacts of Climate Change” to examine the health and economic impacts of climate change over the next century if we do not act immediately to limit global warming.


Chairwoman Maloney issued the following statement:


“As I said earlier, today’s important hearing was about the climate crisis that is already harming the health of Americans – one that our children will undoubtedly inherit.  If we do not act now, it will result in tragedy on a vast scale.  I thank the experts who took the time to testify and explain how our nation, our economy, and the health of the American people all stand to benefit from decisive action limiting climate change.  We owe it to our constituents, to each other, and to future generations to take action on climate change now.


Today’s witnesses included medical experts Dr. Drew Shindell, Duke University; Dr. Michael Greenstone, University of Chicago; Dr. Neeta Thakur, University of California, San Francisco; and Dr. Renee N. Salas, Harvard Medical School.  Michael Shellenberger, the President and Founder of Environmental Progress, was invited by the Republican Members to testify.


The experts provided testimony that: 


Climate Change Reform Can Save 4.5 Million American Lives In Next 50 Years


  • Dr. Shindell presented the results of new research by his colleagues at Duke University and NASA, stating:  “Over the next 50 years, keeping to the 2º C pathway would prevent roughly 4.5 million premature deaths, and about 3.5 million hospitalizations and emergency room visits.”  Dr. Shindell explained that many of these preventable deaths are tied to diseases resulting from poor air quality, including stroke, heart disease, and pulmonary diseases.


  • Rep. Robin Kelly noted the significance of Dr. Shindell’s findings, stating:  “That’s a huge number.  That’s nearly three times the number of lives we lose in car accidents every year.  It’s twice the number of deaths caused by opioids in the past few years.  And it’s even more than the number of Americans we lose to diabetes each year.” 


  • Dr. Shindell explained that it would be “unconscionable to realize these benefits could be obtained and not attempt to obtain them.”


  • Dr. Greenstone discussed his recently released research finding that “with continued high emissions of greenhouse gases, climate-induced changes in temperature will increase the global mortality risk by 85 deaths per 100,000 population.”  According to Dr. Greenstone, this increase “is almost as large as the current fatality rate from cancers.”


The Costs of Not Addressing Climate Change are Dramatically Higher Than Previously Estimated


  • Dr. Greenstone testified:  “The economic costs of climate-induced health risks are at least an order of magnitude larger than has previously been understood.” 


  • Dr. Shindell testified: “The avoided health care spending due to reduced hospitalizations and emergency room visits exceeds $37 billion” and the increased labor productivity is “valued at more than $70 billion.”  In an exchange with Subcommittee Chairman Rouda, Dr. Shindell explained:  “These costs to American businesses greatly outweigh the cost of making a clean energy transition.”


  • With respect to Dr. Shindell’s new findings on premature deaths, Dr. Salas stated: “When I’m standing next to the bedside of a patient, when I can do something to save that one patient’s life that is enough, so to be talking about numbers of that magnitude is extremely powerful.” 


The Failure to Act Harms The Most Vulnerable Americans


  • Dr. Greenstone noted that this crisis affects Americans across the country, regardless of political orientation or geography:  “Heat doesn’t care where you live or where you vote, or who you vote for.” 


  • Dr. Salas explained that she was testifying to bring the stories of her patients to Congress:  “Patients like the young, strong, and otherwise healthy construction worker who had two jobs to support his growing family in record-breaking heat.  By the time he arrived at my emergency department, his organs were already failing as we rapidly tried to cool him.  His story showcases that no one is invincible.  Or patients like the elderly man whose wife called 9-1-1 because he was acting confused.   The medic said that the temperature in their apartment felt like the Sahara Desert because they had no air conditioning and only one open window.  This man’s core temperature was 106 degrees Fahrenheit.  When I tell this story, I often wonder about his wife, who remained in the apartment that day while her husband was taken to the hospital.”


  • Dr. Salas testified:  “Vulnerable populations like the elderly, the poor, certain racial minorities, and children are currently bearing the brunt of health harms from climate change.”


  • Dr. Thakur also testified about the severe impacts that extreme heat and air pollution have on her most vulnerable patients—the elderly, those with chronic medical conditions, and those from historically disadvantaged communities.  She stated:  “For one of my patients—a 68-year-old man with COPD who was also homebound and could not afford air conditioning, the record temperatures were causing him severe distress.  To escape the heat, he needed to sit in a cool bath and keep a wet towel on his neck to stay cool and to keep his breathing comfortable and to keep him out of the hospital.  My patient staying cool was not a matter of comfort and convenience, it was literally a matter of life and death.” 


116th Congress