The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. The CDC has canceled a February 2017 conference on climate change and health but is not saying why publicly. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
Photo: David Goldman
Photo: David Goldman

Chilled by a Trump cold front? CDC cancels climate change summit

The government’s top public health agency has canceled a February conference on climate change and health but isn’t saying why publicly.

But a co-sponsor was told by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the agency was worried how the conference would be viewed by the Trump administration.

In an email response to a request from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a CDC spokeswoman wrote that three days before Christmas, the agency began telling registered participants the February 2017 summit would be postponed.

“We are exploring options to reschedule the meeting while considering budget priorities for fiscal year 2017,” the Atlanta-based agency wrote in an official statement. It would also look for “potential overlap with an APHA (American Public Health Association) conference on the same topic also being held later in 2017.”

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The incoming administration did not ask or order that the meeting be canceled, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“They had no idea or not whether the new administration would be supportive,” said Benjamin, whose group was a co-sponsor of the event with the CDC.

Rather, the decision was “a strategic retreat,” intended to head off a possible last-minute cancellation or other repercussions from Trump officials who may prove hostile to spending money on climate change science, Benjamin said Monday.

“They decided the better part of valor was to stop and regroup” until it could be discussed with Trump’s new health leadership, Benjamin said. A new CDC director has not been named.

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Benjamin called the decision understandable but worrisome. He was echoed by Kristie Ebi, a professor of global health at the University of Washington in Seattle, who was invited to speak at the conference.

“In the long run, climate change is affecting the health of Americans,” Ebi said. “At some point, I hope they will go forward with the conference.”

Ian Karra, an organizer for the Sierra Club, said the move to cancel the summit was “deeply disturbing.”

“The Trump administration has a responsibility to take climate change seriously,” Karra said. “If the CDC is taking this step preemptively, we hope it will show some climate courage going forward.”

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Public health experts say climate change is a man-made problem that contributes to a range of health issues and illnesses, including heat stroke and diseases spread by tropical insects. The CDC has a $10 million program on climate and health, and published guidelines to help local health officials deal with human vulnerability to climate change.

In 2012, Trump tweeted that the concept of global warming was created by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. He later said he was joking, but during the presidential campaign referred to global warming as “a hoax.”

Before he took office, Trump met with former Vice President Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, both prominent climate activists. Trump picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. During his confirmation hearing, Pruitt backed away from his own past statements and said climate change is real.

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AJC staff writer Rosalind Bentley contributed to this article.