The Collaborative Institute

Building Connections

April 11, 2011
by The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS)

Climate Change and Public Health

Recently CIOCS explored ideas about Managing the Risks Associated with Climate Change. The American Medical Association has recently released a statement about their recent research and meetings discussing the impacts of climate change on public health. In the report, they state:

“Scientific evidence shows that the world’s climate is changing and that the results have public health consequences. The American Medical Association is working to ensure that physicians and others in health care understand the rise in climate-related illnesses and injuries so they can prepare and respond to them.”

The AMA uses examples from Florida and Maine to describe how human populations will be affected as conditions change. To help drive home this emphasis, Florida and Maine have both played host to the AMA meetings about these issues. Read the full statement for how the AMA sees climate change and public health interacting in Florida and Maine.

The AMA is encouraging physicians to work with state and local health departments “to improve the systems’ anticipation and awareness of climate-related health issues.” For tips and resources, the AMA recommends that physicians look to the AMA Center for Public Health Preparedness and Disaster Response, and the Climate and Health Literacy Consortium.

Other public health groups have taken notice of the effects of climate change on public health.  In September 2010, 120 of America’s top public health experts and organizations submitted a joint letter to Congress, urging Congress to allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “move ahead with urgently needed new rules to curb global warming pollution.” Organizations such as the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Lung Association lent their support to a letter stating that:

“As public health professionals, we are writing to urge you to recognize the threat to public health posed by climate change and to support measures that will reduce these risks and strengthen the ability of our local, state and federal public health agencies to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change.  In order to prepare for changes already under way, it is essential to strengthen our public health system so it is able to protect our communities from the health effects of heat waves, wildfires, floods, droughts, infectious diseases, and other events. But we must also address the root of the problem, which means reducing the emissions that contribute to climate change. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for protecting the public’s health from climate change, and we urge you to fully support the EPA in fulfilling its responsibilities. We also urge opposition to any efforts to weaken, delay or block the EPA from protecting the public’s health from these risks.”

Public health is just one of the many risks associated with climate change. As the CHLC notes, “Clinicians will be on the front lines of all climate-related health impacts, whether those result from catastrophic disasters such as floods, heat waves or other temperature extremes, or indirect effects like increases in emergency room visits over time due to decreasing air quality.” The CHLC also states that because the “healthcare industry will experience the climate crisis in its own operations, characterized by increasing energy costs, projected instability in the electric service provision grid, and intensified stressors placed on community health services, especially in times of disaster,” it is necessary for the sector to develop a “strong, unified voice to reduce both the environmental and public health impacts of climate change.” Risk management can help physicians and the healthcare sector prepare for the serious, immediate and long-term impacts of climate change.

February 28, 2011
by The Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate and Security (CIOCS)

Managing the Risks Associated with Climate Change

Recently, UN Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres linked current unrest in areas like the Middle East and North Africa to the effects of climate change, such as drought, short water supplies and decreased crop yields. Ms. Figueres stated, “It is alarming to admit that if the community of nations is unable to fully stabilize climate change, it will threaten where we can live, where and how we grow food and where we can find water. In other words, it will threaten the basic foundation – the very stability on which humanity has built its existence.” Ms. Figueres emphasized the need for the global community to take urgent action on climate change. Factors such as more frequent and severe natural disasters, heat waves and drought, widespread disease and rising sea levels, among others, will mean that “climate change, especially if left unabated, threatens to increase poverty and overwhelm the capacity of governments to meet the basic needs of their people, which could well contribute to the emergency, spread and longevity of conflict.”

Research supports Ms. Figueres’ argument regarding the increased risks associated with climate change. For instance, cholera was believed to be a human-driven disease but was recently linked to environmental changes as well. By examining this deadly disease from a new angle, it may be possible to “help minimize cholera’s damage,” even potentially leading to an early warning system for cholera.

Climate change also has consequences on food supply- driving at the very nature of human survival. In Guyana, the government and rice farmers are preparing themselves for the future by examining the food security issues. By cultivating different varieties of rice and moving rice fields, Guyana is trying to stay ahead of the climate change curve.

Given the complex effects of climate change, and large amount of uncertainty regarding the future challenges, there is wisdown in planning ahead. The PEW Research Center released a new report that makes this very argument. In Degrees of Risk: Defining Risk Management Framework for Climate Security, the report recommends using “a risk management approach to break logjams and tackle climate change.” This risk management approach has been valuable for national security and the military and easily applies to the effects of climate change. “Risk management provides a systematic way to consider threats and vulnerabilities, ‘knowns and unknowns’ and to take steps to minimize risk.”

Although we may not know the exact effects that will be coming as a result of changing climate, we can prepare for the worst, as well as work to reverse the changes. Jay Gulledge and Nick Mabey put it this way:

“When it comes to climate change, uncertainty must not be a barrier to action. Uncertainty doesn’t mean we know nothing; just that we do not know precisely what the future may hold in a given place at a given time. But we have a good handle on what the risks of climate change look like. Will the oceans rise by two feet or six? Will global average temperatures rise by two degrees, or five? Other weighty public policy decisions– from military procurement to interest rates to financial system regulation – are taken under far higher uncertainty than exists when it comes to climate change science.”

Preparation is a necessary and vital response to changing climate. Human security may prove to depend upon the plans and actions that societies take now.

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