by Cristina Tirado, August 30, 2011

ImageAs the global community grapples with the challenges posed by a changing climate, we are coming to understand that many strategies to mitigate climate change can also have positive impacts on the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in many ways, including by supporting sustainable food production and consumption, promoting walking and cycling, improving public transportation and designing and disseminating clean-burning cookstoves. At the same time, many of these much-needed interventions will also to improve public health by reducing the burden cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, respiratory conditions and cancer.


PHI will be hosting a panel discussion in New York on September 19, during the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs, at which global leaders in the fields of public health, nutrition and climate change will explore what is known about the interactions between climate and health, identify gaps in existing knowledge and plan a course for the future - a future in where we all have cleaner air to breathe, healthier and safer food to eat, and healthier communities in which to live.


Please see the invitation here for more information.  And if you're in New York on September 19, please join us!

by Cameron Scott, August 29, 2011

ImagePhoenix, Arizona, is facing its hottest August ever, with temperatures reaching well above 110. Here in the Golden State, we may need to get ready for such atrocities, too.

A new study [PDF] commissioned by the California Air Resources Board says state residents should brace for more frequent heat waves in the coming decades. The heat waves will likely have an increased death toll as a result of the state's aging population.

Using a new modeling method that considers wind and cloud cover, among other mitigating factors, the study found that 10-day or longer heat waves will increase by two to ten times over (depending on the region) by the end of the century.

In the nine urban areas included in the study, heat currently causes about 500 deaths every year among senior citizens, who are particularly susceptible to it. By the end of the century, 4,700 to 8.800 seniors will die of heat-related causes every year, according to the analysis. The warming climate accounts for just a quarter of the change, however; the rest is due to shifting demographics.

The study was conducted by Scott Sheridan, a Kent State University geographer who also conducted a 2006 preliminary analysis for CARB.

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by Richard S. Ostfeld, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, August 02, 2011

ImageLyme disease was first discovered in the 1970s in communities of southern New England and New York. Scientists discovered a brand new bacterium (a spirochete called Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes the disease and thought they had discovered a brand new species of tick that transmits the bacteria. They gave this tick the common name “deer tick” (scientific name Ixodes dammini).

The scientists then set out to describe the ecology of this “new” tick. They found the ticks predominantly in coastal areas but not further inland, and they found many of the ticks feeding on white-tailed deer, hence the common name. They concluded from these early studies that the ticks, and thus Lyme disease, were limited to benign climates near the coast. At the same time it was discovered that it was easy to kill ticks by subjecting them in the lab to extreme temperatures (low or high) and to low humidity. Scientists began to suspect that global warming might spread the warm, coastal conditions to inland and higher elevation areas, causing Lyme disease to spread as well. Ecological and climatic models also supported spread.

Three decades later, it’s evident that Lyme disease has, and is continuing to, spread dramatically in eastern North America. But the evidence now indicates that the models were too simple and sometimes flat-out wrong. Why were they wrong and why is Lyme disease spreading?

First, it turns out that there is no such thing as a "deer tick." The tick discovered in the areas where Lyme disease emerged was not, in fact, a new species that required a new name, but rather was a northern population of a species that had been known to science for 150 years. This species is the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis). Blacklegged ticks range from Georgia and the Carolinas to Texas and Oklahoma, up to Minnesota and Wisconsin, and over into the mid Atlantic and New England states. Clearly, they can live in a broad range of climatic conditions.

Second, although it’s true that Lyme disease has moved inland, northward, and to higher altitudes, as would be expected under climate warming, Lyme disease has also spread southward from coastal New England into Maryland and Virginia.

And third, blacklegged ticks are sophisticated little creatures that are able to seek protection from extreme climatic conditions in the soil or under leaf litter. So they’re fairly well buffered against cold winters or dry summers. We know very little about which climate extremes are important causes of mortality.

So, what is the role of climate in the spread of Lyme disease?  The short answer is, we don’t yet know.

It’s highly likely that the geographic range of the blacklegged tick is limited at high latitudes and high elevations by extreme cold. And climate change is pushing northward and upward the zone of extreme cold. So, we should expect the geographic boundaries of Lyme disease to move northward and upslope in the coming decades.

But the spread over the past 30 years seems to have been caused more by the movements of host animals – especially larger mammals (raccoons, skunks, deer) and migratory birds – which can move ticks many miles in just a few days.

So, the emerging picture is that highly mobile hosts are constantly introducing ticks into new environments as they disperse; that whether these new tick populations persist or die out depends in part on climatic conditions. Climate change is making their survival in northern, higher elevation areas more and more likely. Much more research in this area is needed, though, before we can confidently make predictions.

Richard S. Ostfeld, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY. For more information on climate and Lyme disease see the author’s new book, Lyme Disease: The Ecology of a Complex System. Oxford University Press. 2011.

by Cameron Scott, August 01, 2011

ImageBenjamin Schreiber, a climate and energy tax analyst with Friends of the Earth, published a guest post on Grist today arguing that  a tax on carbon could and should be a part of the federal government's strategy to rein in the deficit.

Here's Schreiber's argument: If we adopted a carbon tax proposed by California's own Pete Stark in 2009, we would bring in $80 billion in the first year and $600 billion over 10 years.

$600 billion is more than the cuts to Medicare not long ago proposed by the Gang of Six ($298 billion over the next decade) and the $108 billion cuts to Social Security the Gang proposed over 10 years.

The tax would also reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2025.

What Schreiber doesn't address is that, by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil fuels, we also reduce particulate pollution and spare the government the associated costs. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have grown increasingly expensive, in no small part, because health care costs have continued to skyrocket.  Reducing pollution would limit those costs — not to mention that it would shift the cost of balancing the budget from the the poor, the sick and the elderly to corporations — who currently contribute just 7 percent of the federal government's total revenue.

A carbon tax would also spare us the not-insignificant expense of climate change itself. In the first half of this year alone, the United States spent at least $1 billion dealing with extreme weather events.

by Cristina Tirado, July 28, 2011

ImageAmid all of the chaos around budget and debt ceiling talks in Washington, you may not have noticed that the 2012 Foreign Operations budget was in the mix. But we did. That’s because funding for global health and climate aid are at risk.

This week, House Republicans put forth a State Department and Foreign Operations appropriations bill [PDF]. The proposal, which is scheduled for debate on August 3, would eliminate funding for the Clean Technology Fund and the Strategic Climate Fund. The White House had proposed to increase spending on these programs by more than half in FY 2012.

These are World Bank-led programs that provide financing that helps developing countries minimize the effects of climate change.

The same bill would cut all U.S. contributions to the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which monitors and provides assessments of global climate change, and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. In other words, it’s a climate-denying budget.

The bill does manage $1.6 billion for multilateral climate change assistance, but that represents a 40 percent cut from FY 2011 and is less than half of what the Administration requested.
Slashing the funding for these central programs and organizations would hamstring the fight against global climate change. In developing countries, where people are most vulnerable to the negative health effects of climate change, organizations would no longer have the support they need to reduce and prepare for the problems, health and otherwise, that climate change will bring. 

While our elected leaders in Washington continue to make political hay of climate change, leaders in Bangladesh and the Maldives, among other developing countries, do not have that luxury. The House bill, as it stands, makes the residents of those countries collateral damage in our political fight over spending.

by Cameron Scott, July 22, 2011

The California Air Resources Board will host the final of three community workshops to gather public input on its upcoming Advanced Clean Car standards that could dramatically reduce tailpipe emissions in new vehicles sold in California. The meeting will take place July 26 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Elihu M. Harris State Building, Room 1, 1515 Clay Street in Oakland. Strong standards could significantly benefit human health by cutting smog-forming pollutants, particulates, greenhouse gas emissions, and by implementing a strong zero emission vehicle requirement. This regulation will have a huge impact on air quality and public health in California. Show up and suppor it if you can!