How much deterioration in human health are Americans willing to accept before telling our elected leaders to do something about climate change?
There’s no dispute about the fact that wildfires, heat waves, floods, hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more intense and that they take a toll on our health. A major report published November 28 in the public-health journal The Lancet provides predictions of how climate change is degrading human health, and how it will alter health-care systems in the future, as The Atlantic’s Vann R. Newkirk II put it.
A supplement to the report examined the likely impacts on Americans and broke them down into three categories, Newkirk wrote: 1) The heat itself and the increased intensity and duration of heat waves will make people sick, exacerbate existing conditions, and reduce the productivity of workers; 2) The rising severity and frequency of extreme weather events will elevate threats to health, as well as threats to health systems; 3) Warmer seasons and warmer water mean the range for illnesses carried by ticks and mosquitoes will expand, putting more Americans in the crosshairs of diseases such as vibrio, Lyme disease, and West Nile.
“One of the central challenges” is to convince people that “climate change is here today and is impacting our health today,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, which sponsored the U.S.-focused analysis.
The report points to evidence already indicating links between hotter temperatures and mental-health and cognitive issues; increases in kidney diseases, preterm births, and respiratory diseases; heat exhaustion; and the advance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
It’s worth remembering that every health impact carries a price tag, and we need to crank that figure into any cost-benefit analysis of actions we might take to counter climate change. The Lancet study, which was sponsored by 27 academic institutions, a collection of intergovernmental agencies, and the UN, found that, in 2017, 153 billion hours of labor were lost worldwide because of heat. That’s 64 billion more lost labor hours than in 2000--a 41 percent increase in just 17 years. This is one statistic you can cite if someone tells you it would be too expensive to tax carbon or take other action to fight climate change.
The risk of debilitating, often deadly infectious diseases is moving to new places. That’s because even small changes in temperature and rainfall can have a significant effect on where diseases that are spread by bugs and water can take hold. Habitats for dengue-spreading mosquitoes have expanded significantly, the Lancet study concluded.
The Lancet’s report cites a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows that disease cases in the U.S. from mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas more than tripled from just under 30,000 to almost 100,000 a year from 2004 to 2016.
Do you like to eat? If so, you may be concerned by the finding that crop yields are diminishing in 30 countries, reversing a longtime trend of rising agricultural productivity.
We simply should not ignore these disturbing facts. We need to put them to work to persuade lawmakers that the time has come to price carbon.