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Earth Day: Hope and Warnings

With Earth Day coming tomorrow, a much larger percentage of the country, including the media, will be be focused on environmental issues.   Due to its political volatility, many of the news stories tomorrow will be about climate change.  There is no questions that the impacts from climate change will present our society with immense challenges in the future.  I certainly hope that the focus of public discourse can shift from whether climate changes is man-made or not, to how we are going to face the impacts from climate change.  The same applies to so many other environmental issues that confront our world for which the public discourse tends to be less about solutions and more about blame.  A story I read today outlines some of the most significant environmental issues that we will need to confront in the coming years. I pasted the link and story below, as I think it does a good job of showing how in the short terms, even the day-to-day, that these issues can have in our every day lives.  Droughts that require massive restrictions to be put in place by elected officials are no longer some far fetched concept, as we have seen in California (the world’s 8th largest economy). Issues related to diseases and asthma also directly result from environmental conditions.   Too often as a society, we are so paralyzed that we can only react to the impacts caused environmental issues, instead of trying to anticipate such impacts and coming up with solutions.  Just as we should not need to see a river on fire to take action in protecting our waterways and drinking aquifers, we should not need to see more extreme weather, higher cases of asthma, dried up drinking wells, spreading disease, or rising sea levels to work together to mitigate the impacts to the greatest extent possible.

This Earth Day, my hope is that we can start to have a needed civil conversation, with those who share our views and those who may disagree, on how we can address these critical environmental issues that impact millions in this country every day (billions around the world), especially the most vulnerable among us, and which will certainly impact exponentially more of us every year if we refuse to collectively work together to address these issues head on.

 

The story pasted below can be found here: http://www.weather.com/health/news/earth-day-health-and-climate-change

Intense heat waves — a result of climate change — are one of the most dangerous ways to the planet’s health affects our own, according to a new World Health Organization report that will be presented at the European Environment and Health Process in Haifa, Israel, at the end of the month.

The WHO report also includes a framework for the 32 nations in Europe to address these and other health-related challenges.

“Health in Europe is already suffering as a result of the effects of climate change,” the organization wrote in a press release. “The devastating floods of May 2014 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia affected more than 2.5 million and killed 60 people. In addition, a WHO study released in 2014 projects an annual increase of heat-related deaths in Europe, reaching 27,000 by 2050, for the over-65 age group unless action is taken now.”

(MORE: The Worst Cities for Spring Allergies)

Specifically, more should be done toward building an infrastructure for clean energy and transportation, as well as agricultural measures, the report said.

“Situations vary from country to country, of course, but climate change affects everybody across the entire region, from young to old,” Dr. Bettina Menne, Program Manager of the WHO Centre for Environment and Health, said in a press release. “Climate change is a cross-cutting issue in health, and what has been done so far is simply not enough to tackle the profound consequences.”

Similar sentiments have been reflected stateside by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency and others.

“What we know is that the temperature of the planet is rising, and we know that in addition to the adverse impacts that it may have when it comes to more frequent hurricanes, or more powerful storms and increased flooding, we also know that it has an impact on public health,” President Barack Obama said during a roundtable discussion on public health on April 7.

This Earth Day, learn more about these top climatic health challenges.

Heat waves. By most measures, heat is the deadliest type of weather pattern. In particular, extreme heat waves are known to harm low-income urban residents who may not have access to air-conditioning. A 2013 report linked extreme heat specifically to human-caused climate change, reported National Geographic.

Wildfires. The changing climate’s heat waves and droughts will lead to increased wildfire outbreaks, if they have not already, according to the Third National Climate Assessment Report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, released in 2014. (However, direct links between human-caused climate change and past wildfires, up until at least 2013, have been tenuous, according​ to the same National Geographic report.)

Drought and water quality. Declining water supplies, and in turn, reduced agricultural yields are major concerns due to climate change, the Climate Assessment Report found. (That said, natural climatic variability, not necessarily human-caused climate change, could be the largest contributing factor to the California drought, a NOAA report released in 2014 announced.)

Vector-borne diseases. Diseases spread through mosquitoes and ticks killing thousands every year. The number of diseases affecting humans, plus the number of cases, is set to rise. “The climate will get warmer which means non-native species will be able to survive better, mosquitoes will develop at a faster rate and warmer temperatures will permit tropical pathogens to be transmitted and at a faster rate,” Dr. Jolyon Medlock from the Emergency Response Department at Public Health England told weather.com in an email after a study about future disease outlooks in the U.K.

Air pollution. Seven out of 10 doctors consider air pollution to be the top climatic health concern currently affecting individuals in the United States, according to a recent survey. Air pollution is known to cause lung cancer and has been linked to COPD, asthma and other respiratory illnesses, as well as heart attacks and heart disease. Hot, humid air exacerbates these conditions by causing the formation of additional ozone smog in the air.

Allergies. Not only will a generalized warming trend cause spring allergy season to start earlier and fall to go later, but also the changing climate itself is causing plants to produce more pollen. “The pollen is [directly] affected by greenhouse gases,” Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York and an ambassador for the AAFA, told weather.com earlier this spring. “It’s a double whammy — longer pollen season, as well as the fact that the pollen itself may be more super-charged.”

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