National Environmental Health Association Position on Global Climate Change

Journal of Environmental Health, September 2001 | Go to article overview

National Environmental Health Association Position on Global Climate Change


Editor's note:

One of NEHA's responsibilities is to speak up on issues of concern to our members, and one way of doing this involves adopting positions. At NEHA's 1997 Annual Educational Conference in Washington, D.C., the council of delegates, upon the recommendation of the board of directors, voted to officially adopt a position on global climate change.

Although it has been four years since NEHA's position on global climate change was adopted and published in the Journal, we are republishing it in this issue. We believe recent developments in international and environmental policy have rejuvenated the public's need for (and interest in) credible information about the subject.

As always, by publishing NEHA's positions in your Journal, we are striving to keep you informed about where we stand as your association on issues critical to environmental health.

Adopted July 2, 1997

Background and General Discussion

The impact of greenhouse gas emissions on both human beings and the global climate has been greatly debated in recent years (1). According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there has been a documented increase in global temperature measurements of 0.3[degrees] to 0.6[degrees]C over the last century (2). Further, a recent report from the National Research Council underscores the importance of anthropogenic (man-made) aerosols as agents of climate change (3, 4).

Purpose

The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) supports the precept that anthropogenic sources, specifically greenhouse gases, are responsible for a significant portion of the measured change in global climate. Further, NEHA supports the concept of an association between global warming and an increased risk to public health. Reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere will benefit human health. This position paper reviews current information on the status of global climate change with particular emphasis on the implications for environmental and public health. It is intended to be used as a basis from which environmental and public health practitioners and colleagues in related fields can initiate discussions with policy makers at all levels--local, state, national, and worldwide.

Problem Statement

Currently, global temperatures are projected to increase by 1.0[degrees] to 4.5[degrees]C during the next century, primarily because of a projected doubling of greenhouse gas levels (5-8). According to Patz et al., global climate change could have both direct and indirect effects on human health (9). Severe heat waves could cause an increase in morbidity and mortality, as in the over 500 heat-related deaths seen over the course of a few days in Chicago during the summer of 1995 (10-12). Additionally, ozone, a photochemical pollutant, is typically created under conditions of hot temperatures and stagnant air containing nitrogen oxides. Currently more than 51 million Americans live in areas where ozone levels exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (U.S. EPA's) standard of 0.12 parts per million [13].

As noted by several researchers, climate change is partly responsible for the recent resurgence and re-emergence of some diseases, especially vectorborne diseases [14-17]. Warmer temperatures and changes in rainfall have created ideal conditions for vectors and the pathogens to survive in some areas that were previously inhospitable to them. As an example, tropical and subtropical areas that favor malaria-transmitting mosquitoes would expand, leading to an additional 50 to 80 million cases of malaria each year by the end of the next century [18,19].

Global climate change may also be a threat to agriculture, particularly as a result of a drop in monsoonal rains available [20,21]. Aerosols formed from sulfur compounds, along with greenhouse gases, have been projected to combine with the current greenhouse effect to cause a seven to 14 percent drop in monsoon rainfall over India and parts of China by the middle of the next century, which is considered to be a significant threat to agriculture [18]. …

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