President Obama is about to take further steps to curtail the harmful effects of global warming, and while many politicians may continue to deny climate change, the president has a much different take. For Obama, it seems like this is personal. While speaking at Howard University on Tuesday, Obama linked global warming to his daughter, Malia, and her asthma as a young child. His daughter's condition led him to his climate change activism.
Obama told Dr. Richard Besser, ABC's News’ chief health and medical editor, in an interview at Howard on Tuesday:
Well you know Malia had asthma when she was four and because we had good health insurance, we were able to knock it out early ... And if we can make sure that our responses to the environment are reducing those incidents, that's something that I think every parent would wish for.Obama also told a similar story in an interview with CBS News' chief medical correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook that same day:
I’ve seen how scary it is when your kid comes up to you, your four-year-old, and says ‘I’m having trouble breathing.' ... Malia – early on, when she was young – had asthma. And we had to go to the emergency room once. We had good health insurance, and we had the capacity to really knock it out early, so that over time, she was able to not have to carry an inhaler around.
The president further emphasized his personal take on the issue by telling a story about his time in Los Angeles at Occidental College. He told ABC News that when he was there as a student in 1979, the air quality was already so polluted that he couldn't go outside for a run. The president said that America took steps to clean up air pollution, and although "it's not perfect ... the same thing is true with climate change."
Much of Obama's public remarks at Howard University also revolved around climate change as a public health issue. "We also know that [climate change is] going to have an impact on our public health," the president said on Tuesday. "And through the efforts of these individuals and organizations around the country, I think we’re going to be able to start having an impact."
He added that the government needs to help protect "vulnerable Americans," including the health of families. "You can’t cordon yourself off from air or from climate," Obama said.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy added that global warming may continue to negatively impact the nation's health. Increased asthma attacks and respiratory problems were some of the common health issues linked to climate change, Murthy said:
We know that climate change means higher temperatures overall, and it also means longer and hotter heat waves. We also know that higher temperatures can mean worse air in cities, and more smog and more ozone. We know that more intense wildfires will mean increased smoke in the air. And we know that earlier springs and longer summers mean longer allergy seasons. If you put all of this together, this means that we have more people exposed to triggers that can cause asthma attacks, and more asthma attacks mean more days of school missed. They mean more days of work missed. They mean more costly trips to the doctor. And they most importantly mean more scary moments for parents and for children.
To help educate Americans about the ongoing effects of climate change, the president said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with Google and Microsoft, have made data sets on climate change and public health open to the public. Obama also announced that the White House is working with educators at medical schools.
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