Climate change imperils human health

Mandy Warner

Climate change will affect many facets of human health in the U.S. through worsened air quality, increased transmission of infectious diseases from insects, and increased impacts from extreme weather.

These climate impacts will affect our health, daily lives, and our pocketbook.

Numerous health organizations have recognized the impact climate change is having on human health, and the need for action to mitigate emissions and assist with adaptation.

Here’s a look at what some leading health organizations and their representatives have to say about climate change and human health.

American Academy of Pediatrics journal publication:

“Anticipated direct health consequences of climate change include injury and death from extreme weather events and natural disasters, increase in climate-sensitive infectious disease, increases in air pollution-related illness, and more heat related, potentially fatal, illness. Within all of these categories, children have increased vulnerability compared with other groups.”

American Lung Association website:

“Scientists warn that the buildup of greenhouse gases and the climate changes caused by it will create conditions, including warmer temperatures, which will increase the risk of unhealthful ambient ozone levels. Higher temperatures can enhance the conditions for ozone formation. Even with the steps that are in place to reduce ozone, evidence warns that changes in climate are likely to increase ozone levels in the future in large parts of the United States.”

World Health Organization fact sheet:

“Climate change affects social determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.”

American Medical Association news/opinion piece:

“Climate change produces weather extremes on both ends of the temperature spectrum. In Maine… it’s expected to have a rising rate of heart attacks and problems related to extreme snow, ice and cold. [Furthermore], in Maine, that’s being seen in a marked increase of Lyme disease. Warmer and shorter winters mean that deer ticks die off in smaller numbers, which means more will breed.”

Asthma and Allergy Foundation website:

“Twenty-five million Americans, including 7 million children, have asthma, and 50 million Americans have allergies… They are more likely to sleep poorly at night, miss school or work, and risk hospitalization and even death because of the increasing environmental triggers due to climate change.”

Despite these alarming emerging health-climate issues, I am optimistic about our ability to implement the needed climate solutions to reduce emissions and adapt to impacts.

Just last year, 40 percent of all new electric capacity built was wind power, more than any other source added.

States like Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and California are leading the way on wind power. The U.S. has now installed 60 gigawatts of wind, one-fifth of the world’s total wind capacity.

The economic benefits of wind power are clear. Wind energy companies pumped $25 billion into the U.S. economy in 2012 alone through new project investments, and the wind industry employs 80,000 people.

Other solutions, like energy efficiency, continue to advance each year as well.

Annual savings from electricity and natural gas efficiency programs in 2011 were 19% higher than in 2010. That’s a huge improvement, although enormous efficiency savings – savings that can reduce emissions and save consumers money — still remain on the table.

Our fate is in our own hands.

We can continue to make progress reducing emissions by implementing President Obama’s Climate Action Plan while growing a strong economy.

Making the choice to reduce climate destabilizing emissions will mean a better world for my seven-month old daughter, her generation, and the generations to come. And better air quality will mean my daughter can take full advantage of those long summer days we all enjoyed growing up.

We have a responsibility to take aggressive steps now in order to help stem the tide of the more severe climate impacts we know are coming.

(This post originally appeared on EDF’s Climate 411 blog.)