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CLIMATE CHANGE - THE PUBLIC HEALTH IMPACT

On April 4, 2011, an editorial in American Medical News, an online publication of the American
Medical Association, stated: “if physicians want evidence of climate change they may well
find it in their offices... Patients are presenting with illnesses that once happened only in
warmer areas. Chronic conditions are becoming aggravated by more frequent and extended
heat waves. Allergy and asthma seasons are getting longer. Spates of injuries are resulting from
more intense ice storms and snowstorms.” The AMA report cited recent cases in Florida of
dengue fever, a tropical disease formerly rare in the US. The Center for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) has also reported dengue cases in southern Texas and the Gulf Coast, and
the dengue-carrying species of mosquito has been found as far north as New York and New
Hampshire. Other mosquitoes, ticks and disease-carrying insects are also expanding their
range in the US. The CDC's Division of Vector-borne diseases reports that these diseases “are
rapidly changing their distribution and frequency.” A 2009 report by Physicians for Social
Responsibility also predicts increased rates of heat-related deaths caused by more frequent
intense heat waves.

In May 2009 a report on “Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change” by The Lancet, the
leading British medical journal, and University College London’s Institute for Global Health
concluded that “climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”,
citing “changing patterns of infectious and insect-borne diseases”, malnutrition and disease due
to “reduced food and water security”, “an increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme
climate events” like hurricanes and storm surges, and “large scale population migration and the
likelihood of civil unrest.” In summary, the authors urged: “the health consequences for our
children and grandchildren should be a catalyst for urgent action on greenhouse gas
emissions, reforestation, and adaptation efforts now.”

Dr. Anthony Costello of University College London, one of the lead authors of the UCL-Lancet
study, has said: “Every year of delay increases the costs and difficulties of effective
action. Unless this issue finds its way to the top of the international agenda, this century
could be a disaster movie without a happy ending.”

The AMA article is summarized at www.climatecentral.org/blogs/doctors-group-warns-of-health-


risks-from-global-warming/

For more information on this and other aspects of the global climate change crisis, see the
Climate Portal of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, climate.uu-uno.org .

Guy Quinlan
UU-UNO Climate Advisory Group
April, 2011