The White House is claiming global warming will increase asthma risks for kids, elderly and “communities of color” unless carbon dioxide emissions are drastically cut.
“In the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled, and climate change is putting these individuals and many other vulnerable populations at greater risk of landing in the hospital,” the White House said in a fact sheet, ahead of a presidential announcement on corporations and schools that are taking global warming seriously.
“Certain people and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and some communities of color. Rising temperatures can lead to more smog, longer allergy seasons, and an increased incidence of extreme-weather-related injuries,” according to the White House.
That’s a pretty bold claim, and part of an effort by the Obama administration to tie public health to fighting global warming. The administration first began to parrot the claim that cutting carbon dioxide emissions would help asthma rates after the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a massive regulatory program to cut power plant emissions last year.
Around the same time, the White House put out a fact sheet claiming that global warming “caused primarily by carbon pollution threatens the health and well-being of Americans in many ways, from increasing the risk of asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses to changing the spread of certain vector-borne diseases.”
Basically, the argument goes that global warming will increase the number of days with extreme heat, putting more people with respiratory illnesses into the hospital. The White House also claims that warmer weather will increase ground-level ozone, or smog, which will mean more people with asthma and other respiratory problems will be admitted into hospitals.
To back this up, the White House claims that “ozone concentrations in the New York metropolitan region will increase as a result of climate change, driving up the number of ozone-related emergency room visits for asthma in the area by 7.3 percent—more than 50 additional ozone-related emergency room visits per year in the 2020s, compared to the 1990s.”
The White House also claims particulate matter, an air pollutant from wildfires will be much worse because global warming will lead to more wildfires. Fires contain particulate matter, carbon monoxide and other pollutants medical experts say can exacerbate respiratory illnesses like asthma.
The White House says “[s]moke exposure can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalizations, medical and emergency room visits for lung illnesses, and increased episodes of asthma, bronchitis, chest pain and respiratory infections. As the frequency and severity of wildfires in the United States increase, these health impacts will increase.”
After drumming up concerns that global warming is going to make you way sicker, the White House says that it has a solution: EPA regulations to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The EPA says its regulation will avoid “2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children.”
But here’s the real question: will it actually have an impact on asthma rates? The EPA’s own data shows that emissions from pollutants like carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone and particulate matter have fallen 59 percent, 18 percent and more than 30 percent, respectively, since 2000.
That’s huge. You’d expect asthma attack rates to fall as well, but they aren’t according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of persons with one asthma attack per year increased 2.6 percent per year from 2003 to 2010. The total number of people with asthma has grown from 11 million in 2001 to nearly 13 million by 2010.
As of 2013, the U.S. had an asthma prevalence rate of 12 percent — among children the rate was 12.7 percent. The prevalence rate was 10.4 percent in 2003 for the U.S population in general and 12.5 percent for children.
So asthma rates have increased in the last decade or so, while air pollutants that exacerbate asthma have fallen dramatically.
Does that mean the White House is wrong to say future global warming could make asthma worse? Not entirely. Global warming could do that in the future, but until then, it’s just an unsupported claim.
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