Last May I wrote a story based on a report on the “climate gap, “ based on a report by researchers at three California colleges that focused on how climate change will disproportionately affect the poor and minorities, especially those living in low-income, urban neighborhoods.
In October, Trust for America's Health (TFAH), an advocacy group focused on disease prevention, released a new report, “Health Problems Heat Up,” showing only five U.S. states have published strategic climate change plans than include a public health response.
The study, funded by the Pew Environmental Group, looks deeper into the public-health implications of climate change. These health threats include heat-related sicknesses, respiratory infections, natural disasters, changes to the food supply, and more infections diseases carried by insects.
According to Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, “The changing environment has serious ramifications for our health. In the near future, more extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and worsening air quality mean we'll see an upswing in climate-related illnesses and injuries.”
Levi said that existing public health issues already overwhelm most states so potential new climate-change related problems pose a serious challenge.
The five states that have developed public health response plans as part of larger climate change planning include California, Maryland, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Washington. Twenty-eight other states have published climate-change plans that do not contain a public health response, and the District of Columbia and 17 others do not have any strategic climate-change plans.
According to the TFAH report, urban communities face floods and heat waves, and rural communities may suffer from reduced water resources, excess heat, and crop failures. Communities worldwide could experience storm damage from “extreme weather events” such as hurricanes, drought, and heat waves.
Both Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans and the intense heat wave in California during the summer of 2006 affected people of color living in poor neighborhoods the most adversely. In a July 2009 article in “In These Times,” Elliott Sclar, director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University said, “The reality is, poor people always lived in the most environmentally vulnerable places--places that were vulnerable before the climate change problem made them worse.”
Among other recommendations, the TFAH “Health Problems Heat Up” report suggests that special efforts be made to address the impact of climate change on at-risk and vulnerable communities. The report also recommends that all state and local health departments should include public health considerations as part of climate change plans, including conducting needs assessments and the creation of public education campaigns.
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