As the federal government continues to downplay the dangers of global warming, a new study shows what the intersection of climate change and public health means in the United States.
A report sponsored by 27 academic institutions, a collection of intergovernmental agencies and the United Nations was published last week (November 28) in the public health journal The Lancet. Titled “Shaping the Health Of Nations for Centuries to Come,” it details the three major ways global warming will affect the health of Americans. Per The Atlantic:
For one, the heat itself and the increased intensity and duration of heat waves will make people sick, along with exacerbating existing conditions and reducing the productivity of workers. Second, as has been demonstrated in recent disasters, the rising severity and frequency of extreme weather events will elevate threats to health, as well as threats to health systems. Last, warmer seasons and warmer water means that the range for illnesses carried by ticks and mosquitoes will spread, putting more Americans in the crosshairs of diseases such as Vibrio, Lyme disease and West Nile.
As a consequence of these changes, the report finds that there will be an increase in kidney disease, preterm births, heat exhaustion, respiratory diseases and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And an estimated 3,000 people in the United States are predicted to die because of higher temperatures by 2050, it says.
People of color in the U.S. are more vulnerable than Whites for health ailments related to climate change. Black and Latinx people disproportionately live in areas that tend to be hit by natural disasters such as floods. And a joint study in November 2017 from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Clean Air Task Force and National Medical Association found that the air Black Americans breathe is nearly 40 percent more polluted than that of their White counterparts. This leads to higher rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments.
There are also added health concerns for communities that have already been hit by extreme weather conditions. “From the poor people in Vieques, Puerto Rico, who still face uncertain medical care and unstable electricity after Maria, to Black and Latino communities severed from dialysis services in Houston during Harvey, if there’s anything the current climate regime tells us, it’s that vulnerable populations are already in trouble,” according to The Atlantic.
The study states that populations that have been displaced because of climate change suffer from post traumatic stress and other mental health issues. In addition, reports The Atlantic:
It’s no wonder that displacement and the long-term effects of disasters are also wrapped up in spikes in diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, and those transmitted by pathogens in warm water. In tropical Puerto Rico, Zika outbreaks before the storm led to fears of even greater outbreaks after the storm.
Farmworkers, including migrant farmers who are predominately Latinx, are also vulnerable. “In recent years, we have understood the importance of heat and climate change on the impacts of farmworkers who are working outdoors in some of the most difficult conditions just so Americans can have food to eat,” Jeannie Economos of the Farmworker Association of Florida told The Atlantic.
One of the intentions of the report is to illustrate how urgent it is for the health care system to adapt. Says American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges Benjamin to The Atlantic, “The way I think about it is: Somebody was made sick yesterday from climate change, someone is being made sick today as we speak, and someone is going to be made sick from climate change tomorrow.”