The nation’s top environmental official dismissed efforts to combat climate change as misguided, arguing that unsafe drinking water is a more urgent problem because “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out” and global organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank should be “focused on the people who are dying today.”
“We have 1,000 children die every day worldwide because they don’t have safe drinking water,” Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a CBS News interview Wednesday, ahead of launching a global program to combat unsafe drinking water. “What we need to do is make sure that the whole world is focused on the people who are dying today, the thousand children that die every day from lack of drinking water.”
But global officials have repeatedly warned of the effects of climate change on access to water, cascading into a host of other political and humanitarian problems.
“Water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change,” according to the United Nations’ program on water, which notes that climate change has exacerbated flooding and droughts, creating extremes in water availability and quality, which then severely affects farming and agriculture, jeopardizing food access.
Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, has regularly downplayed the threat of climate change.
During his Senate confirmation hearing in January, Wheeler refused to call climate change a crisis and admitted that he had not fully read a major federal climate change report co-authored by his own agency.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.