Federal scientists quietly postponed a meeting on climate and health planned for February — apparently rattled by the chance of a last-minute cancellation by the Trump administration.
The Climate and Health Summit, planned for Feb. 14-16, would have brought experts in public health to the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, to discuss how to mitigate health threats that are expected to increase with global warming. These include deaths from heat stroke and heart disease during extreme heatwaves and the spread of mosquitoes and other insects that transmit viral diseases.
“We are exploring options to reschedule the meeting while considering budget priorities,” and conflicts with other meetings, CDC spokesperson Bernadette Burden told BuzzFeed News, in an email that didn't otherwise explain the decision.
As reported earlier by ClimateWire, participants were emailed on Dec. 22 to inform them that the meeting wouldn’t be going ahead as planned. The email, obtained by BuzzFeed News, also offered no explanation, simply stating:
“Unfortunately, we are unable to hold the Summit in February 2017 as scheduled. We are currently exploring options so that the Summit may take place later in the year. We will provide additional details in early 2017.”
However, the head of one the meeting’s partner organizations has little doubt that the move was triggered by concerns about the incoming administration’s skeptical position on climate change.
“The right way to think of this is a strategic retreat,” Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told BuzzFeed News. “There was a risk of this being cancelled suddenly, and people were going to make airline reservations and hotel reservations.”
Given Trump’s history of tweeting that global warming is a hoax and his choice of climate skeptics for key cabinet positions, the incoming administration is widely perceived to be hostile to climate science.
The CDC’s apparent act of self censorship isn’t the only sign of the chill winds blowing as scientists prepare for a new political reality. Scientists have been hurriedly backing up government climate data, fearing that it might be deleted. And the National Academy of Sciences has been approached by wealthy donors offering to step in and back climate research if the federal government withdraws funding.
“I’ve been around transitions,” Benjamin said. “This is unusual.”
Cancelling a meeting after speakers had been invited to take part is definitely unusual — and has alarmed experts in public health who were planning to participate.
“We all see climate change as one of the greatest health threats,” Linda Rudolph, who heads the Center for Climate Change and Health at the Public Health Institute, a nonprofit in Oakland, California, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s vital that the CDC continues a leadership role.”
Benjamin said that his organization is determined to hold the meeting later in the year — whether or not the CDC takes part.
“The summit will happen,” he said. “This is very, very important.”
This post has been updated to include CDC's comment.