EPA to Begin Protecting Health from Carbon Pollution Early Next Year

The US Environmental Protection Agency early next year will release proposed standards to update the Clean Air Act to protect public health from carbon dioxide pollution, EPA Chief Lisa Jackson told the news program energyNOW!.

Taking steps to address the public health threat stemming from carbon pollution is long overdue, and Ms. Jackson’s announcement about the time frame for getting started is welcome – and timely - news.

The world’s leading scientific experts announced in a new report that the world is already experiencing increases in extreme day and night-time temperatures and that the effect of warming temperatures on other extreme weather is likely, and that there’s a lot more to come.  Isn’t that interesting, considering that 2011 has set a record for the greatest number of extreme and costly weather-related disasters in the US, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

As the Washington Post explains,

The  report — the culmination of a two-year process involving 100 scientists and policy experts —  suggests that researchers are far more confident about the prospect of more intense heat waves and heavy downpours than they are about how global warming is affecting hurricanes and tornadoes. But the new analysis also speaks to a broader trend: The world is facing a new reality of more extreme weather, and policymakers and business alike are beginning to adjust.

The focus on weather extremes underlines why the EPA is moving forward to limit the pollution contributing to them: the threat to public health.

While today's report focused on climate and extreme weather, another recent report focused on the health impacts and costs these trends impose. My colleagues Kim Knowlton, Miriam Rotkin-Ellman and Gina Solomon recently published with other scientists a ground-breaking article in Health Affairs quantifying the health impacts and costs of climate-related disasters. As Kim explains, the study examined

specific examples of extreme weather and disease events that are expected to worsen with climate change.  The events included ozone air pollution, heat waves, hurricanes, outbreaks of infectious disease, river flooding, and wildfires across the US.  And they led to:

  • 1,689 premature deaths
  • 8,992 hospitalizations
  • 21,113 emergency department visits
  • 734,398 outpatient visits.

Health impacts whose costs, the study found,

exceeded $14 billion dollars and over 760,000 encounters with the health care system -- staggering figures, since they resulted from just six key climate-change related events in the US during the last decade.

Considering that the US EPA is starting the process of limiting the pollution that contributes to all this (and is going to face a lot of opposition from polluters who don’t want it to) its important to point out that Americans do understand the connection: According to research by Yale and George Mason Universities, 67% of Americans connected global warming and this past summer's record heat wave.

Want to know more about how carbon pollution relates to your health? Check out Kim’s post on the new climate extremes report, as well as NRDC’s “Climate Change Threatens Health” webpages (at www.nrdc.org/climatemaps) which map five major climate-health vulnerabilities across the US, so you can see how climate change affects health right in your backyard.