What about COVID? Biden aide says climate change ‘most significant public health challenge of our time’

White House domestic climate adviser Gina McCarthy said Tuesday that climate change poses the “most significant public health challenge of our time.” 

McCarthy seemed to forget the public health challenge that led to the mask on her face as she spoke. She appeared to be reiterating a comment she frequently made as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama. 

McCarthy made the remark in announcing that the Biden White House had created an office of climate change and health equity within the Department of Health and Human Services and had tasked the Department of Justice with establishing an office of climate justice. She noted racial disparities in exposure to pollution. 

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“Quality of life will be better,” John Kerry, U.S. climate envoy added. He said that steering away from fossil fuels would result in “healthier [jobs], less cancer, cleaner air.”

“We spend $55 billion a year on environmentally induced asthma … that will change as we begin to rein in what we used to call pollution in this country,” said Kerry.

Kerry said that every institution in the federal government would tackle issues through a climate lens. “Every agency is now a part of our climate team,” he said. 

The National Institutes of Health said it has seen a sharp increase in asthma cases, largely due to environmental or lifestyle factors. It’s estimated that seven percent of Americans suffer from inflammatory disease, which in children can be brought on by allergens such as dust mites, pets, cockroaches, mice, mold, tobacco smoke, endotoxin, and air pollution.

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Air pollution has been falling in the U.S., its plunge accelerated by Covid-19 lockdowns. But a recent study from the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimates pollution was accountable for 230,000 premature deaths in 2018 and about $600 billion in economic damages and health care costs. Around 425,000 have died from coronavirus since March.

Kerry and McCarthy spoke ahead of a signing ceremony where President Biden inked another round of environmental orders designed to “supercharge”  his administration’s climate change agenda. 

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Wednesday’s orders imposed a moratorium on federal oil and gas leasing, pledged to protect 30 percent of U.S. public land and waters by the end of the decade, and directed federal agencies to factor climate change into a wide range of issues, including procurement, regulations and legal settlements.

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