Today, more than 75 health professionals and scientists are speaking out about the effects of climate change on human health. They have sent a letter to the leaders of Congress asking them to pay attention to tomorrow’s slated release of the Third National Climate Assessment report (NCA3), and to take action to protect Americans from the public health threats of climate change.
The NCA3 report is the most comprehensive analysis yet of the current and projected future effects of climate change. It will provide details from the growing body of evidence on the effects of human-caused climate change all around us today, right in our backyards. The evidence is sobering. Climate change is now firmly in the present, and its effects are being felt nationwide.
Climate change fuels more extreme precipitation events and more heat waves. The floods that result from extreme rainfall not only destroy homes, but can also overwhelm drinking water facilities and sewage systems, leading to increases in infectious diseases. To quote Dr. Mike McGeehin, former Division Director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who also served as a Lead Author on the Human Health chapter of NCA3, "Floods are a public health nightmare."
Heat waves are affected by climate change, becoming more frequent and more intense, often leading to emergency room visits, hospital stays, and even deaths. For example, in the Southeastern U.S. climate change is already affecting extreme heat and will further affect combined heat and humidity. Regionally in the SE, annual average temperatures could be up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter by the year 2100 with climate change. And with more heat, ground-level ozone smog is projected to increase in the Southeast’s 19 biggest urban areas. That translates into higher death rates, more respiratory hospital admissions, and more asthma emergency room visits.
The Midwestern U.S. has already seen more frequent heat waves in the last 60 years. By the end of this century, one study projects that Chicago could see as many as 2,200 heat-wave-related deaths per year if carbon pollution emissions continue to soar.
Beyond the direct impacts of floods and extreme heat, climate change affects a range of harmful human health impacts.
- With warming temperatures, there’s been a lengthening of the ragweed pollen production season across the Midwest. Longer allergy symptoms mean less productivity at work and school, and translate into tens of billions more in health costs.
- Climate change contributes to heat and drought that fuel wildfires, whose smoke can travel hundreds of miles, affecting people far from the blaze.
- Disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes are expanding their range, bringing new risks of illnesses such as Lyme disease, dengue fever and West Nile Virus. Tropical diseases that were once rare on our soil could become more common due to climate change.
Climate change is already affecting Americans here and now, yet we have enormous opportunities to take action on two fronts: preparing for the effects we’re seeing already; and making significant cuts in our emissions of heat-trapping carbon pollution. Limiting carbon pollution will help prevent the worst impacts and avoid even higher costs from future effects of climate change.
This June, the EPA will propose standards to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, the biggest source of carbon emissions in the U.S. We can build healthier communities for ourselves, our children, and grandchildren by making climate change prevention and preparedness top priorities.
These are the actions that will begin to build climate-secure, healthy futures for our children and grandchildren, actions we can point to when they ask, “What did you do about climate change?” Let’s not squander these huge opportunities to assure a more secure future for our children and grandchildren. Let’s prove to each of them how much they matter to us.