Magazine article The Nation's Health

Climate Change Causing Illness, Deaths in U.S.: Major Reports Highlight Growing Evidence on Dangers to Humans

Magazine article The Nation's Health

Climate Change Causing Illness, Deaths in U.S.: Major Reports Highlight Growing Evidence on Dangers to Humans

Article excerpt

GLOBAL temperatures are climbing, raising sea levels and threatening coastal cities, and fires are charring acres of woodland. Spiking temperatures are also hurting crops, upping the challenges of feeding the world, and indirectly causing extreme rains, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Leaders are increasingly making the connection between climate change and human health, thanks in part to recent scientific reports linking climate change and the rise of human illness and disease.

On Nov. 28, The Lancet published another in its series of global environmental analyses: "The 2018 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: Shaping the Health of Nations for Centuries to Come." The report is an interdisciplinary research study involving 27 academic institutions, the United Nations and intergovernmental agencies, based largely on data collected in 2017.

During that year, approximately three-quarters of the U.S. recorded temperatures that were either dramatically above average or hitting record highs, the report said. The rise is harming health, increasing cases of heat stroke, respiratory ailments, kidney failure, gastrointestinal problems and vector-borne diseases.

In the U.S., exposure to extreme heat is the leading cause of deaths due to weather, the report said. By 2050, about 3,400 more Americans are likely to die each year from rising temperatures. Extreme heat is also hindering U.S. labor productivity, particularly in industry and agriculture. Between 2000 and 2017, the U.S. lost 1.1 billion labor hours in those areas, the report said.

Jeannie Economos, a pesticide safety and environmental health project coordinator for the Farmworker Association of Florida, said at a Nov. 29 Washington, D.C., event that she has seen an increase in outdoor laborers suffering from dehydration, kidney damage and heat exhaustion. Adding to the problem, Economos said, is that "farmworkers already have low access to health care, with 50 percent of them undocumented. It's difficult for them to speak out" about their plight.

"We need to protect the most vulnerable populations from these conditions," she said at the event, which highlighted the U.S. portion of The Lancet report.

Wildfires are also causing health problems. In 2017, 98 million acres burned in the U.S., releasing particles harmful to people's cardiorespiratory health, The Lancet report stated. Wildfires continued in 2018, particularly in California. At the Nov. 29 event, Gina McCarthy, director of C-CHANGE, or Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University, and a former EPA administrator, pointed out how San Franciscans hundreds of miles west of the so-called Camp Fire donned masks to avoid breathing the black smoke smothering the Bay Area. …

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