Global climate change will lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths and hospitalizations by 2030, a new federal report released Monday predicted, spurring the Obama administration to announce a series of new initiatives aimed at lessening that impact.
“This isn’t just about glaciers and the polar bears; it’s about the health of our family and our kids,” said Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, one of eight U.S. agencies that contributed to the report. “To protect ourselves and future generations, we need to understand the health impacts of climate changes that are already happening and those we expect to see down the road.”
The report, the result of three years of research by nearly 100 health and science experts, attributed the likelihood of increased deaths and hospitalizations to more air pollution, extreme heat and severe weather brought on by climate change.
At-risk populations include children, the elderly, pregnant women and those who are ill or have disabilities, the report found.
“The assessment finds that every American is vulnerable to the health impacts associated with climate change, but in different combinations and in different places,” said John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s senior science and technology adviser. “And the other key is that some are more vulnerable than others.”
In response to the report, the Obama administration announced a handful of initiatives that seek to curb those health impacts.
They include employing the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to create climate change and health curricula for K-12 schools, instituting a national Extreme Heat Week in May to promote extreme-heat preparedness among communities, and establishing a Climate-Ready Tribes and Territories Initiative, which will provide funding for up to five tribal and territorial governments for the prevention of health issues related to climate change.
The Tribes and Territories Initiative also will provide tribes with access to advisers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide information on how to adapt to the effects of climate change on health.
The White House also added climate change to the list of issues covered by the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health and Safety Risks to Children and the Sustainable, which works to protect children from environmental health risks.
The White House will debut a website later in April with advice for health care facilities on how to deal with climate change.
The report did not offer specific policy recommendations but rather used data, computer modeling and the analysis of more than 1,800 peer-reviewed publications to outline how global temperature rise might affect public health.
The report noted, for example, that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can make crops less nutritious. It said natural disasters caused by climate change pose not only physical threats to humans, but mental health risks as well.
“What is so striking about the science of this report are the multiple pathways that it lays out through which climate change affects health,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
“Years ago, we may have thought it was just one or two ways in which climate change actually adversely impacted health, but we now see that there are actually many,” Murthy added.
The report comes four months after Obama agreed to a climate change action plan developed at an international climate conference in Paris. The agreement set as a goal capping global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius and called for developed countries to donate $100 billion each year to undeveloped nations so they can adapt to climate change and work toward combating it.
Jacob Bell, 202-383-6131; @realjacobbell