Summit on Health Effects of Global Warming Cancelled Days Prior to White House Transition

Climate Change
Demonstrators gather protesting climate change in New York, U.S., January 9, 2017. Scientists have found a way to counter climate change misinformation. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

This story was originally published by The Huffington Post and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly canceled a climate change summit scheduled for next month just days before President Donald Trump was sworn in, a group involved in the event told The Huffington Post. The conference, slated to take place in Atlanta from Feb. 14 to Feb. 16, was planned to explore the "translation of science to practice" in dealing with the health effects of global warming, according to a flier posted by the National Indian Health Board, a CDC partner for the event. The cancellation was first reported by E&E News, a trade publication for environment and energy executives.

"It is canceled on those dates," an employee at the nonprofit, which advocates for tribal health care, told The Huffington Post by phone on Monday. Another worker, who requested anonymity because she wasn't authorized to speak to the press, said the CDC informed the group "the first or second week of January" that the event would be postponed indefinitely. She said the conference had been planned "for months and months."

The climate conference agenda may be folded into a second summit hosted by the American Public Health Association, another CDC partner on the canceled event, in November, the second employee added. An American Public Health Association spokesman did not return a call requesting comment. Other partners on the event included: Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, and the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Climate change became a core public health issue under former President Barack Obama. Increasing global temperatures are melting polar ice caps and raising sea levels, causing more drought, severe weather, flooding and vector-borne diseases. During Obama's eight years in office, the CDC launched initiatives related to climate change in 16 states and two cities.

Neither the CDC nor the White House responded to requests for comment on the canceled conference.

The cancellation came as little surprise to former CDC directors, who told E&E News the government health agency has a history of shying away from contentious political issues.

"Sometimes the agency is subject to external political pressure; sometimes the agency self-censors or pre-emptively stays away from certain issues," Howard Frumkin, former director of the CDC Center for Environmental Health and a professor at environmental health at the University of Washington's School of Public Health, told E&E News. "Climate change has been that issue historically."

Study after study shows the planet has been rapidly warming as the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere skyrocketed from humans burning coal, oil and gas on an industrial scale. Separate analyses from two federal agencies released on Wednesday show that 2016 was the hottest year on record.

Yet, during the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly called climate change "a hoax" invented by China to make U.S. manufacturing less competitive. In November, Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, doubled down on the claim, insisting the president still believes the science behind global warming is "a bunch of bunk."

Trump stacked his Cabinet with climate science deniers and fossil fuel industry allies, and reportedly plans to gut the Environmental Protection Agency's budget. Hours after Trump's swearing in, the White House website on Friday removed the Obama administration's promises to fight climate change and replaced it with a 361-word pledge to dismantle "harmful and unnecessary" environmental policies.

"I'm concerned this is an act of self-sabotage on the part of the CDC," Ed Maibach, director of George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication, told E&E News. "The larger specter is that it will set the tone for self-silencing from the people at the top."