American Medical Association Highlights Health & Climate Change Link

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Another study linking health and climate change came up this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Jonathan Patz, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute and lead author of the study, presented it live at the Civil Society Event on Action in Climate Change and Health in New York.

Physicians say climate change is a health crisis (Physicians for Social Responsibility)

The American College of Sports Medicine, Public Health Institute, and the Global Climate and Health Alliance partner this event with three other health, environment, and energy organizations. Acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, Maria Neira (World Health Organization (WHO) director for public health and the environment), and Gina McCarthy (administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency), and many others participated in the occasion.

The study reviews the science behind some of the current and projected health risks of climate change, especially those of more extreme heat waves and storms. Problems include increased risks of waterborne and infectious disease, additional  chronic health risks related to air pollution, and increased malnutrition and obesity-related risks from unhealthy, carbon-intensive diets.

An interdisciplinary team of experts in public health, air quality, and climate science collaborated for this study of health and climate change. They relate some sobering stats about the weather US cities can expect by 2050:

  • The number of extremely hot days in eastern and midwestern cities is projected to triple by mid-century.
  • Milwaukee and New York City could experience three times as many 90-degree days by 2046.
  • Dallas could see twice as many days topping 100 degrees.

In presenting their synthesis, study authors advocate for efforts that benefit both the health of the planet and the health of people. Most important are reducing fossil fuel consumption and adapting to climate changes that are already under way. The research calls out the health effects of changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level, and ocean acidification.

Specifically, the study supports science-based strategies to reduce global consumption of fossil fuels, design sustainable cities, change diet to limit health- and environment-unfriendly meat, enact carbon policies whose costs are more than offset by their potential health benefits, and promote active human transport like walking or biking to work.

Says Patz about the intersection of health and climate change:

Climate change already is affecting global health. The good news is that clear health benefits are immediately available, from low-carbon strategies that today could result in cleaner air or to more active transport options that can improve physical fitness, ultimately saving lives and averting disease.

From the study itself:

A wide range of solutions is available to mitigate the problem of climate change. Many of them would improve health immediately. From decreasing rates of chronic diseases to reducing motor vehicle crashes, there are many good solutions for climate disasters and health risks. Reducing greenhouse gas, deploying sustainable energy technologies, shifting transportation patterns, and improving building design—many of which yield multiple benefits—are feasible, cost-effective, and attractive to multiple parties. Health care professionals are uniquely positioned to develop policies that simultaneously serve both planet and people.

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