Academic journal article The Public Manager

Impact of Climate Change on Public Health

Academic journal article The Public Manager

Impact of Climate Change on Public Health

Article excerpt

Climate change is increasing the occurrences and severity of hurricanes, droughts, floods, extreme heat, and so forth--all of which have an impact on the health of populations. Just consider some headlines from 2010:

1| Eastern and Midwest United States Suffer from Extended Heat Wave

2| Russia Cancels Export of Wheat in Response to Forest Fires and Drought

3| India and Pakistan Suffer from Worst Flooding in Memory

4| Scientists Report Changes in PH of Oceans Killing Phytoplankton, Impacting Food Chain.

Public health is concerned with the health of people as groups; healthcare is concerned with the health of individuals. In the United States and other developed counties, public health actions taken in the 19th and 20th centuries have increased how long and how well people live. In 1850, the life expectancy in the United States was 38.8 years; by 1900 the life expectancy had risen to 48.8 years. Today, a child born in the United States can expect to live 78.3 years.

Until the mid-1900s contaminated water and food and communicable diseases were just part of living--and dying--in the United States. Today, in developing counties, they remain a major threat to public health. While outbreaks still occur, these issues no longer plague the United States. However, they could return. Our success in improving the health of our population has been rewarded by a change in public attitude toward public health and reduced funding for public health agencies.

Direct Effects of Climate Change on Public Health

Major alterations in climate that affect the public health include changes brought on by the general rise in temperatures, variations in weather patterns brought on by altered wind and rain patterns, and increased ocean levels. A secondary impact to public health is brought on by changes in the environment and the increase of [CO.sub.2] and other pollutants in the air and water. While continued climate change may have a negative impact on everyone at some point, low income and vulnerable populations (older adults, children, and people with chronic conditions) are more likely to feel the effects of climate change first.

Heat Waves

The first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record. We witnessed more days of excessive heat. These heat waves (over 90 degrees) do not cool off at night and are accompanied by stagnant air. Each year on average 700 people in the United States die during heat waves. By the year 2050, excess heat-related deaths may rise to between 3,000 and 5,000 people per year. If this number seems high, consider that more than 35,000 people died in France during the summer of 2003 as a result of its heat wave.

Clinical issues brought on by heat waves include heat-induced rashes, heat stroke, increased incidence of asthma, and other respiratory diseases. More demand for cooling requires higher demand for electricity, which involves running electric-generating plants that are less efficient and add to the pollutants in the air.

Heat stresses the body and aggravates other existing problems, including cardiovascular disease. Most affected by heat events are the very young, the old, and the poor. The public health adaptation is to open public cooling centers and try to provide ways of keeping people cool. It is clear that such public health strategies must occur in cooperation with other public and private managers.

Extreme Weather Events

When the atmosphere gets warmer, it can absorb more water vapor, which increases both the number and severity of thunderstorms, tornados, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events. Changes in rain intensity and locations will determine which areas become more arid and which receive more rain. Areas such as the western United States, which rely on precipitation stored in mountains in the form of snow for water, may not have enough water from traditional sources. …

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