"Meteorological and ecological shifts driven by climate change are creating a slow and often unpredictable bloom of novel public health challenges across the United States. The American Public Health Association has declared climate change 'one of the most serious public health threats facing our nation,' although the precise nature of that threat remains uncertain."
Quotes on Health Impacts of Climate Change
"The air that is the very essence of life has become a carrier for disease and for early death. Between 1930 and 1960 the number of deaths from one respiratory disease alone increased by 800 percent.
But air pollution is also a drain on our resources. In the United States alone it accounts for more than $11 billion in economic damages. This amounts to nearly $30 a year for every man, woman, and child in our Nation. And yet our expenditure on air pollution control is less than 20 cents a year per citizen.
We made a hopeful beginning toward solving this problem with the Clean Air Act of 1963."
"The Congress finds—
(1) that the predominant part of the Nation’s population is located in its rapidly expanding metropolitan and other urban areas, which generally cross the boundary lines of local jurisdictions and often extend into two or more States;
(2) that the growth in the amount and complexity of air pollution brought about by urbanization, industrial development, and the increasing use of motor vehicles, has resulted in mounting dangers to the public health and welfare, including injury to agricultural crops and livestock, damage to and the deterioration of property, and hazards to air and ground transportation;
(3) that air pollution prevention (that is, the reduction or elimination, through any measures, of the amount of pollutants produced or created at the source) and air pollution control at its source is the primary responsibility of States and local governments; and
(4) that Federal financial assistance and leadership is essential for the development of cooperative Federal, State, regional, and local programs to prevent and control air pollution."
"Other studies of the influence of climate change on human health have examined a rather narrow set of potential medical areas. The underlying research has generally referred to Lyme disease, malaria, dengue and yellow fevers, and encephalitis, none of which is a major health problem in the United States. The IPCC (1995, p. SPM-10) has asserted that the 'geographical zone of potential malaria transmission in response to world temperature increases at the upper part of the IPCC-projected range (3-5deg.C by 2100) would increase from approximately 45% of the world population to approximately 60% by the latter half of the next century.' On the other hand, the WHO notes that
until recent times, endemic malaria was widespread in Europe and parts of North American and that yellow fever occasionally caused epidemics in Portugal, Spain and the USA. Stringent control measures ... and certain changes in life-style following economic progress, have led to the eradication of malaria and yellow fever in these areas. ...
Concern about tropical and insect-spread diseases seems overblown. Inhabitants of Singapore, which lies almost on the equator, and of Hong Kong and Hawaii, which are also in the tropics, enjoy life spans as long as or longer than those of people living in Western Europe, Japan, and North America. Both Singapore and Hong Kong are free of malaria, but that mosquito-spread disease ravages nearby regions. Modern sanitation in advanced countries prevents the spread of many scourges found in hot climates. Such low tech and relatively cheap devices as window screens can slow the spread of insect vectors."
"The vast majority of the world's climate scientists have concluded that if the countries of the world do not work together to cut the emission of greenhouse gases, then temperatures will rise and will disrupt the climate. In fact, most scientists say the process has already begun. Disruptive weather events are increasing. Disease-bearing insects are moving to areas that used to be too cold for them. Average temperatures are rising. Glacial formations are receding."
"The following statements summarize the position of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) on dealing with the potential health effects of projected climate change.
• Nearly all of the potential adverse health effects of projected climate change are significant, real-life problems that have long persisted under stable climatic conditions. Bolstering efforts to eliminate or alleviate such problems would both decrease the current incidence of premature death and facilitate dealing with the health risks of any climate change that might occur.
• Policies that weaken economies tend to weaken public health programs. Thus, it is likely that implementation of such policies would (a) increase the risk of premature death and (b) exacerbate any adverse health effects of future climate change."
"In summary, a warmer climate should improve health and extend life, at least for Americans and probably for Europeans, the Japanese, and people living in high latitudes. High death rates in the tropics appear to be more a function of poverty than of climate. Thus global warming is likely to prove positive for human health."
"Since climate change will have only a very small effect on the world’s health, why are so many rushing to impose onerous taxes and controls on U.S. industry? The carbon tax that the administration suggested and then withdrew would have cost Americans about $180 billion per year. If preventing a rise in disease in poor countries were the purpose of restricting emissions, then it would be much more effective to deal with that problem directly than to put constraints on our energy use. Spending only one-tenth of that amount to provide clean water or mosquito netting would contribute far more to the world’s health than attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
"The burden of disease has also lifted considerably. The annual number of deaths among people under age 50 fell from 21 million in 1955 to about 10 million in 1997. Deaths under 50 are expected to decline further, to 5 million, by 2025. This is an extraordinary improvement in human health since world population in 1955 was 2.8 billion and is now over 6 billion."
"Neither epidemiology nor toxicology supports the idea that exposures to environmental levels of synthetic industrial chemicals are important as a cause of human cancer.... Epidemiological studies have identified several factors that are likely to have a major effect on lowering cancer rates: reduction of smoking, improving diet (e.g., increased consumption of fruits and vegetables), hormonal factors, and control of infections.... Although some epidemiological studies find an association between cancer and low levels of industrial pollutants, the associations are usually weak, the results are usually conflicting, and the studies do not correct for potentially large confounding factors such as diet.... Moreover, exposures to synthetic pollutants are very low and rarely seem toxicologically plausible as a causal factor, particularly when compared to the background of natural chemicals that are rodent carcinogens.... Even assuming that worst-case risk estimates for synthetic pollutants are true risks, the proportion of cancer that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could prevent by regulation would be tiny...."
"It is impossible, and in fact is irresponsible, for any climatologist to claim that any given weather event could not have happened if not for increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases. Yes, 2003 was a very warm summer in Europe, but the fact that similar conditions occurred there in the very distant past pretty much debunks the 'global warming' hypothesis."
"In the early 1990s, malaria topped the list of dangerous impacts of global warming; the disease would move to temperate regions as temperatures increased. This prediction ignored the fact that malaria was once an important cause of morbidity and mortality throughout most of the US and Europe, even in a period that climatologists call the ‘Little Ice Age’. In the US, as in western Europe, prevalence declined in the 19th century as a result of multiple changes in agriculture and lifestyle that affected the abundance of mosquitoes, their contact with people, and the availability of anti-malarial drugs. Nevertheless, the most catastrophic epidemic on record anywhere in the world occurred in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, with a peak incidence of 13 million cases per year, and 600,000 deaths. Transmission was high in many parts of Siberia, and there were 30,000 cases and 10,000 deaths in Archangel, close to the Arctic circle. The disease persisted in many parts of Europe until the advent of DDT. Clearly, temperature was not a limiting factor in its distribution or prevalence."
"The British government's Stern Review, released with much fanfare in late October, predicted increases in temperature will produce up to 80 million new cases of malaria.
This claim relies on a single article that described a simplistic mathematical model that blithely ignored the most obvious reality: Most Africans already live in hot places where they get as many as 300 infective bites every year, though just one is enough. The glass is already full.
The weather is largely out of our control, but malaria is not. While billions are spent on climate change prevention and by advocacy groups, malaria remains rampant, killing millions, making life a misery for hundreds of millions — like the children of Karatina where the epidemic could easily be eliminated cheaply."
"Worldwide, life expectancy has more than doubled, from 31 years in 1900 to 67 years today. India's and China's infant mortalities exceeded 190 per 1,000 births in the early 1950s; today they are 62 and 26, respectively. In the developing world, the proportion of the population suffering from chronic hunger declined from 37 percent to 17 percent between 1970 and 2001 despite a 83 percent increase in population. Globally average annual incomes in real dollars have tripled since 1950. Consequently, the proportion of the planet's developing-world population living in absolute poverty has halved since 1981, from 40 percent to 20 percent. Child labor in low income countries declined from 30 percent to 18 percent between 1960 and 2003."
"...[N]umerous studies from around the world show a connection between cold weather and respiratory diseases.
A Norwegian study found 47 percent more respiratory deaths in winter than in summer. In London, a 1º C drop in mean temperature (below 5º C) was associated with a 10.5 percent increase in all respiratory disease consultations. In Brazil, the adult death rate changes due to a 1º C cooling were twice as great as death rate changes due to a similar warming--and 2.8 times greater among the elderly.
In the United States, temperature variability is the most important element of climate change related to respiratory deaths, though the reasons for this do not seem to be clear to physicians."
"Globally, mortality and mortality rates [due to extreme weather events] have declined by 95 percent or more since the 1920s. The largest improvements came from declines in mortality due to droughts and floods, which apparently were responsible for 93 percent of all deaths caused by extreme events during the 20th Century. For windstorms, which, at 6 percent, contributed most of the remaining fatalities, mortality rates are also lower today but there are no clear trends for mortality. Cumulatively, the declines more than compensated for increases due to the 2003 heat wave."
"With climate change, the United States would expect to see an increase in the severity, duration, and frequency of extreme heat waves. Heat causes a range of health effects, from mild (heat cramps, heat exhaustion) to severe (such as heat stroke, which can be fatal). Certain populations are especially vulnerable to these health effects, including the elderly, those with certain underlying medical conditions, those who are socially isolated, and those without air conditioning. Midwestern and northeastern cities are at greatest risk, as heat-related illness and death appear to be related to exposure to temperatures much hotter than those to which the population is accustomed."
"Climate-related disease risks occur throughout the US, and many are expected to be exacerbated by climate change. Some health benefits could result, including reduced cold-related mortality and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the Southeastern U.S. However, the net health effects have been assessed to be adverse."
"No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent droughts and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees. The security and stability of each nation and all peoples—our prosperity, our health, and our safety—are in jeopardy, and the time we have to reverse this tide is running out."
"Rising carbon dioxide levels have been observed to increase the growth and toxicity of some plants that cause health problems. Climate change has caused an earlier onset of the spring pollen season in the United States. ... It is reasonable to conclude that allergies caused by pollen have also experienced associated changes in seasonality. ... Several laboratory studies suggest that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations and temperatures increase ragweed pollen production and prolong the ragweed pollen season. ...
Poison ivy growth and toxicity is also greatly increased by carbon dioxide, with plants growing larger and more allergenic. These increases exceed those of most beneficial plants. For example, poison ivy vines grow twice as much per year in air with a doubled preindustrial carbon dioxide concentration as they do in unaltered air; this is nearly five times the increase reported for tree species in other analyses. ... Recent and projected increases in carbon dioxide also have been shown to stimulate the growth of stinging nettle and leafy spurge, two weeds that cause rashes when they come into contact with human skin."
"Heart attacks and strokes rise as temperatures fall. This is because when confronted with the cold, the blood vessels in the skin contract to conserve heat by preventing blood from flowing to the surface. The composition of the blood also changes.
The heart has to work harder to pump blood through narrower vessels, while the change in concentration means it is more liable to clot, with all the ensuing health problems.
The British Heart Foundation says: 'There is growing evidence to suggest that heart attacks are linked with extreme weather conditions, especially cold weather.'"
"Scientists attribute as many as 30,000 deaths a year to cold temperatures. More are attributed to poor health and the flu, both of which seem to flourish in the colder regions of the world. As temperatures rise across the globe, it is expected that this number will significantly decrease. Deaths that have been attributed directly or indirectly to cold weather will become less and less common. History shows us that during warming periods, typically found after ice ages, populations flourished. It is likely that our population will flourish during this period of Global Warming as well.
Another sad fact of cold weather is ice and snow, both of which contribute to fatal car accidents each year. In fact, research shows that between the years 1975 and 2000 there were 1.4 million fatal crashes that could be attributed to bad weather conditions. Global Warming may eventually mean that snow and ice will no longer pose a threat to drivers. As a result, there will be fewer traffic accidents and less fatalities."
"Perhaps the greatest health benefit of Global Warming is the effect it has had worldwide on our ability to produce food. Scientist[s] believe that the world is actually 'greener' since Global Warming was first recognized. The excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere works to our advantage in the case of food production. The extra Co2 is utilized by plants as a type of 'fertilizer' making the plants healthier and more productive. Longer growing seasons and better weather mean that more fresh fruits and vegetables are being produced. The result may very well be a decrease in the price of these commodities. What it really means is that more people will have better access to healthier foods. While it is true that continued Global Warming is likely to change the world, geographically speaking, many of these changes would be for the better. Consider the health benefits [of] the ability to produce fresh fruits and vegetables in [a] place like Greenland or Siberia."
"One of the justifications for combating global warming is that higher temperatures will threaten human health and could cause sweeping epidemics of infectious diseases and ultimately more deaths. But don’t forget a warmer world has benefits as well as costs, as does a cooler one. The empirical data shows that mortality rates rise in colder months, and this is evident across latitudes and well-recognized by the medical community."
"Federal mortality statistics show 800 more people die every day in December, January, and February than occurs on an average day during the rest of the year. The winter months kill 72,000 more U.S. citizens than the spring-summer-autumn average.
The three months with the lowest mortality are the hot-weather summer months of June, July, and August."
"Climate change is a public health issue and is one of the greatest threats to human health. Scientists from across the globe have stated in the strongest possible terms that the climate is changing and that human activity is to blame. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has unequivocally concluded that greenhouse gas is causing global warming and the United States is a leading contributor of greenhouse gases globally. This average increase in the Earth’s temperature (referred to as global warming) is causing regional weather changes such as more extreme weather events and increases and decreases in temperature and rainfall. These regional weather changes may create environmental conditions (floods, heat waves, drought, poor air quality) that lead to poor health outcomes such as heat stroke, injury, malnutrition, respiratory illness and asthma, and infectious (vector- and rodent- borne) diseases."
"Climate change is already dramatically affecting the health of people around the world especially in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 166,000 deaths and about 5.5 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs, a measure of overall disease burden) were attributable to climate change in 2000. These numbers are staggering, but they should not be surprising: climate change influences the living environment on the most fundamental level, which means it affects the basic biological functions critical to life. It impacts the quality of air breathed, availability of food and drinking water, and the potential for disease to spread.
These impacts are different in different parts of the world — and equally troubling, they are disproportionately burdensome for the world’s more vulnerable populations. Children, the elderly, the poor and those with chronic and other health conditions are considered the most vulnerable to the negative health impacts of climate change because they are most susceptible to extreme weather events like heat waves, drought, intense storms and floods. They are also least likely to have the resources to prepare or respond. This unequal burden seems especially unjust given that these populations are the least likely to contribute substantially to climate change. Any strategies for managing climate change impacts must take the unique challenges and needs of vulnerable populations into account."
"To put the public health impact of extreme weather events into context, cumulatively they now contribute only 0.07% to global mortality. Mortality from extreme weather events has declined even as all-cause mortality has increased, indicating that humanity is coping better with extreme weather events than it is with far more important health and safety problems.
The decreases in the numbers of deaths and death rates reflect a remarkable improvement in society’s adaptive capacity, likely due to greater wealth and better technology, enabled in part by use of hydrocarbon fuels. Imposing additional restrictions on the use of hydrocarbon fuels may slow the rate of improvement of this adaptive capacity and thereby worsen any negative impact of climate change. At the very least, the potential for such an adverse outcome should be weighed against any putative benefit arising from such restrictions."
"According to calculations by Lombard Street Research in the UK, any global treaty that would stabilise the climate at today's temperatures would cost a total of £8 trillion--45% of the world's current annual economic output, causing permanent economic depression.
Economic growth is an absolute pre-requisite for improved health. One study has shown that if economic growth in the developing world had been a mere 1.5% higher in the 1980s, at least 500,000 child deaths could have been prevented.
This is because much of the disease burden in developing countries is a direct result of poverty. Diarrhoea, chest infections from burning wood and dung indoors, water-borne infections and malnutrition are the biggest killers of children, killing millions regardless of any changes in the climate."
"The relationship between climate and disease is less marked than is often claimed. Margaret Chan, the head of WHO, on Monday stated that rising temperatures could lead to the re-emergence of malaria in the USA. But this fails to take into account the vast range of human and ecological factors that determine the incidence of this disease.
According to Professor Paul Reiter, an expert on vector-borne diseases and former contributor to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 'there is no evidence that climate has played any role in the burgeoning tragedy of this disease.' Reiter points out that malaria was endemic throughout northern Europe until the second half of the 19th century, when changes in agricultural practices, improved drainage and better human dwellings led to a spontaneous decline of the disease as mosquitoes had fewer opportunities to bite people--even while records show temperatures rose in this period."
"During the dark ages (from 750 to 1100 AD) temperatures were so low that the Nile froze and ice floated in the Adriatic Sea. During the Middle Ages, temperatures rose, so much so that Greenland became suitable for agriculture and England became a wine producing region. Yet all the while the transmission of malaria and other vector-borne diseases continued.
As temperatures plummeted during the dark ages and during the little ice age of the 16th century, malaria continued to flourish in Europe. It disappeared only when Europeans became wealthy enough to afford medication, decent housing and the drainage of swamps for agricultural land. Studies have found also that the increased incidence of malaria in Kenya's western highlands correlates not with climate changes, but mostly with population movements, failing drugs and a lack of adequate malaria control."