Denial and delay. If this combination sounds familiar, it’s because it happens all too frequently in our response to health issues.

Individuals may avoid dealing with their health problems because they are afraid of facing the possibilities or don’t have insurance or just think they are too busy with other things. This approach is unfortunate because, as we all know, preventing a problem is always better than even the best treatment.

When a patient or a medical professional takes this potentially catastrophic approach, it affects the individual, family, friends and co-workers – the entire circle surrounding that person’s life. But when an entire nation adopts the “denial and delay” strategy, it can affect millions of people over decades. Individuals may choose to avoid facing the facts, but a nation or a state has the responsibility protect all its citizens and avoid disaster.

For example, since 1964, when the U.S. surgeon general declared cigarettes to be harmful to our health, the tobacco industry has engaged in manipulative tactics to deny the facts and delay action. They delayed the passage and implementation of public health protections that could have saved countless lives and billions of dollars.

Maine physicians saw these tactics used aggressively right here every time proposals were brought forward to limit smoking, even when children’s health was on the line. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence of harm, what should have taken just a few years took decades to accomplish.

Denial and delay have worked very well for the tobacco industry for almost 50 years. They now appear to be working for the fossil fuel industry (coal, oil and natural gas), despite the efforts of scientists and physicians.

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The United States of America, the richest nation on Earth and the biggest per capita producer of carbon pollution, has a particularly significant responsibility to address this threat. Fortunately, this June may be remembered as a major turning point for action on climate change.

We have seen a report on the expected health effects of climate change in Maine with the publication June 18 of “Death by Degrees” by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Maine Chapter. This short, hard-hitting report makes this complex topic easily accessible to all Mainers.

On the same day, Pope Francis released his encyclical addressing climate change, demonstrating the moral imperative to take action to protect this beautiful planet and the creatures living on it.

Then, on June 23, the prestigious medical journal The Lancet published its comprehensive report on the vital importance of taking action now to avert the public health disaster that unchecked climate change is causing right now.

And that same day, the surgeon general of the United States declared global climate change a major public health problem and recommended immediate action. In doing so, he joined other famous surgeons general who have advocated for action to address the most important national health threats, based on facts and science.

Actions that could be taken in Maine to reduce the health impacts of climate change are well described in the PSR-Maine report (available at psrmaine.org). The important thing from the medical standpoint is that many of these actions could have a rapid positive impact on the health of all Maine people both in the short term and for generations to come.

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Nationally, the Clean Power Plan will lead to climate and health benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion by 2030, avoiding 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children. As The Lancet makes clear, most of the actions that can be taken immediately actually save money because of these reductions in health care costs.

In 2009, the Maine Medical Association passed a resolution calling for action on climate change, a position also advocated by the American Medical Association.

PSR-Maine published the first report on the expected health effects of climate change in Maine 15 years ago. This is not a new issue. But sadly, action has been painfully slow because of denial and delay. Now must be the time we finally move forward.

A week ago, we celebrated Independence Day – and we hope for the sake of the health of our state, our country and our planet that the road to independence from fossil fuels begins now.

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