Addressing Climate Change and Local Public Health: The Austin Climate Protection Program and the CDC Working Group on Climate Change Collaboration

By Prudent, Natasha; Houghton, Adele et al. | Journal of Environmental Health, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Addressing Climate Change and Local Public Health: The Austin Climate Protection Program and the CDC Working Group on Climate Change Collaboration


Prudent, Natasha, Houghton, Adele, Stewart, Jake, Petersen, Alexander, Thompson, Rachel, Byrne, Maggie, Luber, George, Journal of Environmental Health


In the December 2007 issue of the Journal, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) framed the public health impacts of climate change (Luber & Hess, 2007). They noted costly catastrophic weather events (Greenough et al., 2001) and vectorborne-disease outbreaks (Gage, Buckot, Eisen, & Hayes, 2008; Greenough et al., 2001; Gubler et al., 2001; Patz, Vavrus, Uejio, & McLelan, 2008) are expected to become more frequent, widespread, and lengthy. The potential health effects of extreme heat (Luber & McGeehin, 2008), respiratory diseases (Kinney, 2008), injuries from extreme weather events (Greenough et al.,), and adverse mental health impacts (Balbus & Wilson, 2000) are also of concern. Climate change will threaten traditional public health infrastructure. It will stress environmental health services, such as efforts to respond to severe weather events and disease outbreaks, provide assurance of drinking water safety, and implement vector control measures.

As the reality of climate change becomes apparent, many government entities are taking proactive measures. These measures are broadly defined by two aspects: greenhouse gas emissions reduction (mitigation) and reducing the harm associated with climate change impacts (adaptation) (Frumkin & McMichael, 2008). Mitigation initiatives such as the Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) campaign, sponsored by the International Council Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI, 2008), have developed five milestones in addressing climate change. Participating cities must do the following:

1. conduct a baseline emissions inventory and forecast,

2. adopt an emissions reduction target for the forecast year,

3. develop a local action plan,

4. implement policies and measures, and

5. monitor and verify results.

As cities tackle climate change and its threat to local infrastructure, efforts linked to mitigation as well as adaptation present opportunities (Frumkin & McMichael, 2008) for co-benefits in public health. For example, traditional combined sewage overflow systems that experience heavy rainfall events may discharge contaminants into water bodies, resulting in increased incidence of waterborne diseases (Curriero, Patz, Rose, & Lele, 2001). As cities begin to upgrade sewage systems to reduce their carbon footprints under campaigns like CCP, a more resilient sewer infrastructure that will withstand extreme weather events is enhanced by the co-benefit of reducing incidence waterborne diseases (Curriero, Patz, Rose, & Lele, 2001; Patz, Vavrus, Uejio, & McLellan, 2008).

The public health effects of climate change are influenced by dynamic interactions among environmental-climatic factors, biological systems, and human elements (Rose et al., 2000). With more than 100 U.S. cities participating in CCP, environmental health practitioners have opportunities to improve public health by integrating public health frameworks, such as the Ten Essential Public Health Services (Frumkin, Hess, Luber, Malilay, & McGeehin, 2008), with existing climate change programs. The framework outlines the following actions:

1. monitor the health status of the community,

2. investigate and diagnose health problems and hazards,

3. inform and educate people regarding health issues,

4. mobilize partnerships to solve community problems,

5. support policies and plans to achieve health goals,

6. enforce laws and regulations to protect health and safety,

7. link people to needed personal health services,

8. ensure a skilled, competent public health workforce,

9. evaluate effectiveness, accessibility, and quality of health services, and

10. research and apply innovative solutions.

In collaboration with the CDC Working Group on Climate Change, the city of Austin's Climate Protections Program (ACPP) is piloting an approach to linking public health and local climate change programs.

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