Climate change impacts public health.


Climate change affects the world in many ways, but one of the least discussed problems arises from its impact on public health. George Luber is the Associate Director for Climate Change for the National Center for Environmental Health, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Luber said such a complex system as the Earth’s climate deserves better understanding. Luber says climate change could cause widespread adverse public health effects.

From the direct effects of severe heat and weather to the secondary effect of ecosystem alteration through vector-borne diseases and water-borne diseases, but perhaps the category that we understand the least, and the cat that has the greatest potential for large scale impact, are these tertiary impacts of climate change that impact water and food supply, mental health, and environmental refugees.

Ciguatera fish poisoning is the most common form of seafood poisoning worldwide, and becomes more widespread with rising sea temperatures. Luber says this is a danger for fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Very debilitating illness. It starts with the GI system and progresses to a complex of neurologic systems, including a very unusual reversal of the hot and cold sensation. If you have Ciguatera fish poisoning, and you grab a cold can of soda, it feels like it’s burning your hand. And these symptoms can persist for weeks and some folks even report years. And this is an emerging challenge to the fisheries in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Actually, two years ago there was a large coral reef in the middle of the Gulf called the Flower Gardens that the FDA shut down because of some toxic fish getting into the food supply. We had an outbreak in Baltimore, Boston and Chicago as a result of this.

Luber says that before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report in 2007, there was no public health focus on adapting to climate change. One of the ways Luber recommends for adapting to climate change is walking more to increase physical activity, and decrease carbon emissions.

Also getting people out of their cars decreases air pollution and improves the quality of air. By getting people out of their car, they can actually talk to each other. Instead of behind a windshield, we can actually talk to our neighbors. And by speaking to our neighbors and knowing our neighbors, it increases neighborhood social capital. And this has shown to be an extremely important factor in community resilience to extreme weather events.

And Luber points out that climate related disasters disproportionately affect the poor, as well as racial and ethnic minorities, while the wealthy are better equipped for adaptation.

The United States emits about a quarter of the world’s gases that causes global warming. If we look at the impacts of climate change, we see that the US drops off the map entirely. And mortality associated with climate-related events increases dramatically in those countries that don’t contribute that much to the problem. So those that are most affected are those least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that cause the problem in the first place. This is an environmental justice issue fundamentally. We have to accommodate this in our strategy moving forward. Climate change is an ethical problem fundamentally.

Martin Shonfeld teaches philosophy at USF, and says that global competition should inspire the US to take sustainability seriously.

If one simply “looks around” and sees how other countries are now becoming in many of these climate-related and relevant ways more sustainable more advanced than we are. And that is good because that’s again makes it easier to motivate than such an effort because nobody wants to fall behind.

Public Health professor Boo Kwa agrees with Schonfeld.

Today if you read the New York Times that’s the message Tom Friedman is writing about. That if we don’t have green technologies, if we do not invest in green technologies we’re gonna lose out to other countries, to China.

In addition to international concerns, Environmental Engineering professor Maya Trotz suggests that individuals take care of their own health.

Why do we have so many people that still smoke when there are links to you know, detrimental health effects. So I think in terms of reenergizing or reeducating ourselves and how do we become responsible for ourselves, I think might be one way in which we could start seeing how things connect in a more complex way to start getting to the climate issue. I mean we could compare it to the financial breakdown that recently happened. If everyone was sort of more responsible and cognizant of what was going on externally instead of leaving things to experts.

While the loss of wildlife is a major concern in dealing with climate change, Luber says the health of people is the most important.

I want to get rid of the Polar bear as the symbol of climate change and replace it with the asthmatic child, who many of us have in our family and serves as a real symbol of human impact of climate change. Bring it into our communities and show people that it’s actually humans that are impacted by climate change.

Community advocate Dena Leavengood complains that the climate debate has become too skewed in mainstream news media.

We don’t trust many of the media sources any longer to give us accurate information and correct information. But you could end global sustainabilities. This school could perhaps be the portal that would provide a forum for having the conversation with the community with people who want to become knowledgeable on these issues.

Students who enroll in the global sustainability program will finding a real solution to solving at least one sustainability issue, either at home, or in another country as part of the program. This event was the first for the school, which has the only online global sustainability masters degree in Florida.

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