Health and Global Warming

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					                   Health Facts

                                  Global Warming And Our
                                  Health: Addressing the most
                                  serious health impacts of climate
“If you look at climate           Science has shown that global warming will affect human health across
change over the long              the world. From diminished air quality and degradation of food and water
term, it will profoundly          supplies to increasing levels of allergens and catastrophic weather events, we
affect the pillars of             will experience a number of worsening health threats during our lifetimes.
public health: water,             Fortunately, urgent action can help us avoid the worst of these impacts.
sanitation, air quality           First, Congress must address global warming through mandatory legislation
and sufficient food.” 1           that reduces global warming pollution on the order of 80 percent by 2050.
Dr. DaviD Heymann, assistant      In addition, the national and local public health system must protect
Director-General for HealtH       communities by preparing for eight of the most pressing health hazards
security anD environment,         associated with climate change.
WorlD HealtH orGanization
                                  1. Extreme Storms Will Affect Health and               heatstroke, cardiovascular disease, and kidney
                                  Infrastructure: Science tells us that global           disease. Extreme heat waves cause the most
                                  warming has contributed to more hurricanes and         harm among elderly and young children. City
                                  intense storms in the North Atlantic during the last   dwellers are at particular risk because of elevated
                                  several decades. Increased storm wind speeds and       temperatures in cities, known as the “urban heat
For more information,             more intense rainfall are projected as the climate     island effect.”
please contact                    warms.2 More severe storms and floods can lead
Kim Knowlton at
(212) 727-4579.                   to drownings, injuries, and outbreaks of infectious    3. Air Pollution Will Contribute to More
                                  disease. Storms also damage basic infrastructure,      Smog and Respiratory Illness: More than
                                  with moisture leading to mold growth that can          100 million Americans currently live in counties
                                  exacerbate allergies and respiratory illnesses.        with ozone levels above national EPA standards.
                                                                                         Rising temperatures will increase ozone smog in
                                  2. Heat Waves Will Lead to Increased Death             many areas, especially in cities. Increasing levels
                                  and Illness: The frequency and duration of heat        of ground-level ozone are associated with increased
                                  waves in the United States is projected to increase    hospital admissions for people with respiratory
                                  substantially because of global warming.3 As           diseases such as asthma and will worsen the
                                  temperatures increase, so do the number of deaths      health of people suffering from cardiac or               and illnesses occurring from heat exhaustion or        pulmonary disease.4
                                            Health Facts
                                                                  Global Warming And Our Health:
                                                                  Addressing the most serious health
                                                                  impacts of climate change

                                                              4. Pollen Allergens Will Proliferate:                      7. Water and Food Supplies Will Be
                                                              Higher temperatures and increased levels of                Threatened: Global warming is expected to
                                                              carbon dioxide may cause allergenic pollen season          worsen floods and droughts, threatening the
                                                              to start earlier, last longer, and be more intense.5       availability of water for drinking and irrigation.
                                                              For example, higher levels of carbon dioxide can           Droughts diminish food variety, nutritional
                                                                                          cause ragweed to produce       content, and availability—all of which can
     Global Warming’s
                                                                                          60 percent more pollen         contribute to malnutrition, infectious diseases,
     Effects On:                     Adverse Health Impacts:
                                                                                          than normal. With              and starvation. Warming ocean temperatures bring
     Floods, storms                  Deaths, injuries, infectious disease outbreaks,
                                                                                          increases in airborne          shifts in the geographic range of fish populations
                                     mental health impacts on affected communities
     Heat waves                      Deaths, hospitalizations, emergency department       pollen, those who suffer       and can severely impact local food supplies. One
                                     visits, and heat-related illnesses                   from seasonal allergies are    analysis predicts that by the year 2060, there will
     Air pollution                   Increased concentrations of ground-level ozone       likely to experience worse     be an additional 40 to 300 million people at risk of
                                     smog and fine particulate matter, increasing         symptoms, including            malnutrition from human-caused climate change.8
                                     premature mortality and hospitalizations
                                                                                          hayfever and asthma.           And global warming’s higher temperatures can
     Airborne allergen               Increased allergic illnesses (hay fever, asthma)
     production                      due to longer pollen season and increases in the                                    increase the risk of food-borne illnesses.
                                     amount of pollen produced                             5. Mosquito- and
     Insect-borne                    Infections carried by mosquitos, ticks, and           Tick-Borne Infectious         8. There Will Be Large Numbers of
     infections                      other insects can spread into new areas               Diseases Will Spread          Environmental Refugees: Sea-level rise will leave
     Water-borne                     Risk of cholera could be increased as coastal
                                                                                           More Widely: Climate          some areas uninhabitable, forcing people to flee
     infections                      and estuarine waters warm; extreme rainfall
                                     events are associated with increased risks of         change will affect the        their homes in coastal regions. The United Nations
                                     Cryptosporidium outbreaks                             patterns of diseases such     estimates that in the next 10 years there will be up
     Water and food                  More frequent drought, reduced drinking water         as malaria, West Nile         to 50 million “environmental refugees”—people
     supplies                        supplies and crop yields, increasing world food       virus, dengue fever,          forced to migrate from their homes by a range of
                                     insecurity; declining fisheries can contribute to
                                                                                           and Lyme disease.6            climate change-related environmental disasters
                                     protein shortages; increased risks of food-borne
                                     illnesses                                             Warming temperatures          like floods, droughts, and desertification.9 Health
     Sea-level rise                  Contamination of coastal soils and drinking           and increasing amounts        among these refugees will be threatened by
                                     water supplies; increasing storm surges and           of rainfall have been         associated increases in urban crowding, lack of
                                     floods; large numbers of displaced people             associated with increases     water, and transmission of infectious diseases.
Table adapted from McMichael et al. (2006)                                                 in the occurrence and
                                                                  transmission of insect-borne diseases, and higher      Protecting Ourselves from the Worst
 Walsh B. 2008. Can climate change make us sicker? TIME           temperatures lead to more rapid development            Impacts of Global Warming
Magazine (April 4, 2008).
  IPCC. 2007. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis.
                                                                  of dangerous pathogens within insect carriers.         The range of potential threats to health and
Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment          Warming temperatures allow these diseases to           life posed by global warming has never been
Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
[Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt           expand their range into new, once cooler, regions.     clearer. NRDC encourages national, state,
KB, Tignor M, Miller HL (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
                                                                                                                         and local officials and other policymakers to
    Confalonieri U, Menne B, Akhtar R, Ebi KL, Hauengue
3 4,5,6                                                           6. Drinking Water Will Become Increasingly             act immediately to reduce global warming
M, Kovats RS, Revich B, Woodward A. 2007. Human health
(Chapter 8). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and
                                                                  Contaminated: Outbreaks of water-borne                 emissions at least 80 percent by 2050 in order
Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth     diarrheal diseases caused by parasites, like Giardia   to avoid the worst potential impacts of a changing
Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof JP, van der Linden PJ,   and Cryptosporidium, have been associated with         climate. We must also prepare the public health
Hanson CE, Eds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
                                                                  heavy rainfall events, which are likely to become      system to respond to the range of anticipated
 McMichael AJ, Woodruff RE, Hales S. 2006. Climate change
and human health: present and future risks. The Lancet            more frequent due to global warming. For               health threats that will accompany global
                                                                  example, recent cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh        warming. For more information, see the fact
 Patz J, Engelberg D, Last J. 2000. The effects of changing
weather on public health. Annu Rev Public Health 21:271–307.      have been brought on by heavy rains.7 The impact       sheet titled “Preparing for Global Warming” at
 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 2007. UNEP          of global warming on the safety of water supplies
2007 Annual Report. Available at:
AnnualReport/2007/AnnualReport2007_en_web.pdf .                   will be most severe in developing countries, where
                                                                  water treatment is less available.

                                                                  © Natural Resources Defense Council May 2008          Printed on recycled paper