In anticipation of the issues that will be raised at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment (HCHGE) participated in a briefing last Friday on Capitol Hill.
HCHGE Associate Director Paul R. Epstein outlined the possible health implications of climate change in the United States, accompanied by representatives from the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association.
“This was the first time [these four organizations] have come together speaking with one voice on the threats of climate change,” said Epstein. “This was a monumental event from our perspective.”
In order to urge policymakers to act, participants in the briefing cited the results of numerous studies conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School.
Epstein added that the mission of research at the HCHGE “is to call attention to the health dimensions of global environmental change.”
Fact sheets culled from Harvard Medical School studies were used at the recent Congressional briefing. They are available online and provide a summary of adverse effects of climate-related health concerns that either have occurred or are projected to occur across the United States.
One fact sheet states that “more respiratory disease, heart disease and death from heat waves are projected.” The study predicts that the frequency, duration and extent of heat waves will increase with global warming and that events such as the 10-day Chicago heat wave—which resulted in 738 deaths in June of 1995—will become more common.
The research also predicts that “prolonged asthma and allergy seasons” will result from heat wave-related increases in ground-level ozone, higher ragweed pollen counts, and particulates emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels.
Moreover, the studies state that infectious diseases will become more prevalent if climate change continues unabated. The report states that stinging insects will expand their geographical reach and that tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis will also be on the rise.
The fact sheets also cover nutritional concerns, observing that “crops face growing stresses from volatile weather and...pathogens” because heavy precipitation—induced by changes in climate patterns—fosters fungi growth, a major cause of crop loss.
Epstein did remain optimistic when he concluded that “a set of complementary solutions that are good for public health,” if adopted by the U.S. government, could combat the bleak findings of the studies.