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Mayor talks climate change with health experts

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Though climate change poses a major threat to the environment, it is also a danger to the public, both worldwide and in Central Texas.

That’s the point Mayor Steve Adler made Tuesday when he sat down in his office at City Hall with Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and a group of regional public health professionals to discuss ways to address the effects of climate change on lives in the region.

Those in attendance included Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department medical director and health authority Philip Huang, Dell Medical School dean Clay Johnston and Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility co-presidents Lisa Doggett and Trish O’Day, among others.

While the discussion was not open to the media, participants listed several concerns in a short news conference beforehand that both related to climate change and are relevant to Austin and Central Texas.

These include asthma and other risks that can result from high concentrations of ground-level ozone, an increased likelihood of contracting illnesses spread by insects and other vectors, and dangers related to high temperatures, drought, wildfires, flooding and severe weather events.

According to the Capital Area Council of Governments, Central Texas is currently in compliance with federal ozone standards, though the Environmental Protection Agency is considering new requirements.

Adler highlighted what he considers Austin’s dedication to climate change and public health issues. “We see ourselves as trying to help push that envelope and to bring a lot more public awareness to these issues,” Adler said. “It’s kind of our culture and DNA to not only be involved, but to be leading in this effort.”

Adler noted that the Austin City Council adopted a Climate Protection Resolution in 2007 that, among other things, set in motion the adoption last year of a goal for Austin Energy to obtain a generation portfolio consisting of 55 percent renewables by 2025 and the upcoming consideration of a plan that aims for net-zero communitywide greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The discussion took place as part of a larger effort by President Barack Obama, who issued a presidential proclamation Monday declaring this week to be Public Health Week.

Goldfuss said that Obama also met Tuesday with the surgeon general and a group of health care professionals to announce “a new set of actions to decrease the health impacts of climate change.”

Goldfuss added that she would be looking to the City Hall discussion and similar ones throughout the country for topics and questions to integrate into a Climate Change and Health Summit the White House will be hosting later in the spring.



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