Hot or Not?:
Obstacles to Emerging Climate-Induced Illness
Climate-induced illnesses are rapidly becoming one of the most important public health issues of this century (Haines et al. 2006). These illnesses, such as vector-borne disease, heat-induced illness, and injury from extreme weather events are rising in number and in breadth in the United States (Balbus and Wilson 2000). Although their existence and magnitude is increasingly well-established by epidemiologists (Houghton et al. 2001), they have been infrequently addressed by policymakers (Morgan et al. 2005). Public reactions to climate-induced illness have varied by disease group or illness risk and have been shaped by prior social movements. While in some cases, there has been almost no sustained response in civil society, other cases have resulted in the formation of new networks, collaborations, and actions to address impacts.
In this paper, I review the varying social responses to climate-induced illnesses and discuss new and often under-recognized related movement activities, which I call Climate-Induced Illness Movements (CIIMs). These movements arise to connect illness to changing climatic conditions. I focus on the conditions under which such movements emerge, with particular attention to related obstacles. I use three cases to explore these developments—West Nile Virus, displacement of Alaska Native people, and heat-induced illness in Philadelphia—to argue that conditions fostering emergence include a preexisting movement and especially environmental justice organizing, and that obstacles relate largely to scientific uncertainty and impediments to framing.1 Scientific obstacles are partially caused by illnesses related to climate change being new, or at least newly reaching extreme levels, indeterminately linked to environment, and frequently affecting isolated populations without histories of social movement formation. CIIMs also have difficulties with “framing” (Snow and Benford 1992), such as frame transformation and diagnostic framing.