by Cristina Tirado and Jeni Miller, November 08, 2011

Last week, Lois Capps (D-CA) reintroduced legislation, the Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act, which calls for a national strategic action plan that would help public health agencies prepare for the health impacts of climate change. In a nation seemingly bent on keeping its head firmly buried in the sand on this issue, this is a welcome move.

A recent study published by the Natural Resources Defense Council and several universities estimates that six climate change–related events that struck the United States from between 2000 and 2009 accounted for about $14 Billion in lost lives and health costs. These climate change–related events -ozone pollution, heat waves, hurricanes, infectious disease outbreaks, river flooding, and wildfires- are projected to worsen with continued global warming. Actual health care costs were estimated to be $740 million and the future health costs associated with predicted climate change–related events such as hurricanes, heat waves, and floods are projected to be enormous.

 

Public health agencies in the U.S. will be faced with dealing with these impacts on people’s health. Given the right tools, funding, and mandates, public health agencies could play a key role in preventing the worst health impacts by helping communities to be prepared. A national strategic plan can provide a framework that enables public health agencies and others to help create resilient communities prepared for a range of adverse events and situations. And just as many actions to mitigate and prevent further climate change have numerous co-benefits to health, so climate change health preparedness also prepares communities even for adverse events not related to climate change. Congresswoman Capps has recognized that there is much to gained by being prepared, and much more to be lost of we aren’t.

Public Health Institute and the Center for Public Health & Climate Change welcome and applaud this important Act.

Learn more about the Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion Act.

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by Cristina Tirado, November 03, 2011

Climate change is considered the greatest current threat to public health and to future security. How to secure our future wellbeing under a changing climate has been discussed by leading experts in health, security, the military, economics, and business at the Conference on Health and Security Perspectives of Climate Change in London on October 17th.

Among other issues the Conference highlighted the health co-benefits and savings of lower carbon use. For example, reducing EU greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels) would save over €80 billion a year in healthcare costs and through increased productivity of a healthier workforce.[i]

A statement urging governments around the world to prioritize efforts to address the causes and impacts of climate change was co-signed by many delegates at the Conference including the PHI’s Center for Public Health and Climate Change.

i "Acting Now for better health, A 30% reduction target for EU climate policy", HEAL and HCWHE, 2010

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by Jeni Miller, October 28, 2011

Water issues are already emerging as a result of climate change.  In the fragile and often dry climates of the American West, the potential impacts on fresh water as a result of a changing climate are profound. Meanwhile water rights remain politically complex and sensitive.  The Center’s October 19th webinar, Charting the Rapids Ahead: Western Water, Climate Change and Public Health, brought national experts together to present current thinking and policy implications on this crucial issue. Visit Dialogue4Health to view the presentations and listen to the recorded webinar.

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by Jade Sasser and Matthew Marsom, October 28, 2011

Healthy food. Sustainable farming. In addition to supporting the public’s health, did you know that these strategies also provide important solutions to climate change?

The agriculture sector produces approximately 6% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, due to chemical farming inputs, emissions from livestock, and the long distance transporting of foods. At the same time, conventional food systems overproduce crops that are largely used to produce sugars and fats, which contribute directly to the obesity epidemic.  Increasing access to healthy foods grown by a more environmentally sound agricultural system can play a significant role in both mitigating climate change and promoting human health, thus providing co-benefits for both health and the environment. Protecting community-based nutrition programs and promoting sustainable local farming practices through the Farm Bill is a key strategy in the effort to promote diet-related climate change co-benefits.  Yet support for these programs may be at risk, as the 2012 Farm Bill is rushed through Congress during the current deficit reduction process.  

On October 24, 2011, PHI participated in Food Day, a national dialogue about food, farms and the American food system that advocates for the transformation of the American diet. Calling for U.S. farm policies in favor of sustainable agriculture, small and mid-sized farms, and fair conditions for agricultural laborers, Food Day focused on the goal of making fresh, healthy food accessible for all people.  In addition, PHI spearheaded a joint communication to Congress urging it to spare critical nutrition and sustainability programs.  Join us in advocating for healthier communities, a healthier food system, and a healthy and sustainable climate.

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by Suzanne Petroni, October 24, 2011

I just watched Weathering Change, a powerful new documentary on climate change and women, produced by our colleagues at Population Action International (PAI).  As someone who’s written and spoken about the linkages between climate change and population growth (see, for example, this piece for Global Change), I was eager to see how PAI communicated the very real impacts that climate change is having on women and families around the world. 

The short film introduces us to women in Nepal, Peru and Ethiopia who share the impacts that a changing climate is already having on their daily lives. Shifting agricultural patterns, diminishing water supplies and, in two of three cases, migration from their homes challenge them to provide adequate nutrition and water for their families, even as they work harder every day to do so.  These challenges lead them to realize, perhaps more than ever, that they must be able to control their fertility – to decide freely and responsibly whether to bring more children into the increasingly difficult situations they face.

As told through the heartfelt words of these women, their challenges – as well as their needs and desires - become very real. With apologies to deniers, climate change is not a hypothetical for them – it is a reality, and it is one that is making their already demanding lives even more so.  As Aragash Ayele of Ethiopia says so eloquently, “A woman’s life is hard, and climate change is making it harder.”

Well said, Aragash, and well done, PAI. 

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by Nicole Herman, October 13, 2011

Climate change affects everyone, but it does not affect everyone equally. A growing body of evidence shows that men and women suffer different negative health consequences and employ gender-differentiated coping mechanisms in the face of climate change. Men suffer psychological, economic and social strain. However, women remain disproportionately affected, and for poor women in less developed countries, climate change can impact nearly ever facet of their lives.

Climate change has been linked to an increase in extreme weather events, from droughts to floods.  The World Health Organization’s report Gender, Climate Change and Health (2011) finds that vulnerability varies by sex. Due to a wide range of socioeconomic and cultural factors, including limited mobility and less access to information, women are on average 14 times more likely to die in a natural disaster than men. In the 2004 Asian Tsunami, 70-80% of those who died were women. Women and girls are also more likely to suffer food shortages following natural disasters than their male counterparts (World Food Programme, 2011). Among men, because of their traditional roles as economic providers for their families, weather events that result in loss of income or indebtedness can cause considerable stress. Prolonged drought has been linked with mental illness, depression, and even increased suicide rates among men (WHO, 2011).

Though these cataclysmic events may be more dramatic, the long-term but more gradual shifts due to climate change also have a severe impact on women and their day-to-day lives. Men are more likely to cope with loss of economic opportunities through migration, which can increase their social isolation.  Men’s migration, in turn, increases the labor burden for women, particularly for those who are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods (WHO, 2011). In many areas of the world, traditional sources of water and fuel are changing or disappearing. Women are tasked with traveling further and further to find these resources, often at great personal risk. Furthermore, with more time required to complete basic household chores, there is often less opportunity for girls to attend school. Less access to water also impacts sanitation and hygiene efforts, and may leave women and their families more vulnerable to disease.

These same climate shifts that affect access to water or fuel can also adversely affect crop production, leading to a decrease in the quantity and quality of nutritious food available to women and their families. This can be particularly harmful to pregnant women. Around half of all pregnant women in developing countries are anemic, and iron deficiency causes nearly 20 percent of all global maternal mortality. Malnourished mothers are also at a higher risk of giving birth to underweight babies, who are more than 20 percent more likely to die before the age of five. Those that survive are often more susceptible to compromised cognitive function and physical development. Female babies who were born underweight are more likely to grow up to be undernourished women who then give birth to their own low birth weight children. Anemia and vitamin A deficiencies can also be entirely treatable if only women have access to more diverse and nutritious diets (Tirado, 2010).

In developing long-term, effective adaptation and mitigation strategies it will be crucial to consider the different ways men and women cope with climate change. Though women can be powerful actors of positive change, their contributions are often undervalued. There is great need for holistic and gendered approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation that incorporate both men’s and women’s expertise and utilize their unique roles in agriculture and family life. Climate change affects everyone. Everyone should be part of the solution.

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References

 

Tirado, M.C., Cohen, M.J., Aberman, N., Meerman, J., Thompson, B. (2010). Addressing the challenges of climate change and biofuel production for food and nutrition security. Food Research International 43 (2010) 1729-1744

World Food Programme (2011). “Women and Hunger, 10 Facts.”

 World Health Organization (2011). Gender, Climate Change and Health.

 

 

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