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Global Warming

Global Warming? Climate Change? What’s the difference? Is there one?

According to NASA, Global warming is used by scientists (and written in scientific journals) as a way to describe the increase of Earth’s surface temperature, while climate change includes surface termperature increase along with anything affected by increasing greenhouse gases. (Read more from NASA about the terminology here)

Our work on climate change focuses on three areas:


1. Educating health care professionals and students about the expected health effects from the changing climate. View our presentation on climate change

2.  Working in coalition with other regional and national groups to decrease Oregon’s dependence on electric power generated by the coal-burning power plants in Boardman, Oregon and Centralia, Washington. View our presentation on the health effects of coal in Oregon, and read more about National PSR’s Code Black Campaign.

3.  Working with health care institutions to develop and implement climate change action plans. Read more about this, the newest program in our portfolio.

We welcome volunteers and interns to help with outreach, public speaking, research, and other tasks from the mundane to the expert. Don’t see what you want to do? Contact us at 503-274-2720 to give suggestions or get some ideas.

The Problem


Oregon PSR recognizes that climate change driven by human activities, including emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, along with land clearing and development, poses a threat to the health of the planet and to the security of all nations on par with that of nuclear war.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) declared that the evidence is now “unequivocal” that the earth’s atmosphere and oceans are warming beyond natural variability, and that human activities are responsible for most of the earth’s warming. Left unchecked, rising global temperatures and the changes in climatic patterns they cause will affect ecological health and thus undermine economic and social prosperity and security locally and abroad.

Consequences of Global Climate Change in Oregon


The Climate Impacts Group (CIG) at the University of Washington predicts that climate change in the Pacific Northwest will include changes in temperature, more extreme weather events, and variance in precipitation and snow pack (CIG, 2006; Mote, 2009).

Specific predictions include:

·     Warming of 0.2 - 1.0ºF per decade through 2050, with the best estimate of 0.5ºF per decade. These trends already stand out above natural variability. Average temperatures in Oregon will increase at least 2.8°F by 2100, even if we reduce emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The temperature will rise up to 11°F if we do nothing.

·     Summer temperatures are expected to rise more than will winter temperatures. The Rogue River basin, for example, may see up to 15ºF temperature increases in the summer months by mid-century.

·     Contraction of snow cover (e.g. low-elevation snow will turn to rain), with reductions up to 90% by 2080 in some areas (CLI & NCCSP, 2008), and earlier snow melt leading to higher spring river flows and lower summer flows.  

·     Summer drought and forest insect infestation will increase the number of fires threatening homes and causing air pollution.

·     Increase in extreme weather such as heat waves, wind and rain storms.

·     More heavy precipitation in winter followed by increased flooding, along with more frequent and longer summer droughts.

·     Rising sea levels affecting low-lying coastal areas (especially from Florence, OR northward), more salty ocean water in estuaries and coastal freshwater resources, and an acidification of ocean pH leading to disruptions in marine food chains.


These changes will significantly impact ecosystems and biodiversity in the Northwest, which in turn will have significant implications for all aspects of society, including human health.

Public Health Risks Associated with Climate Change in Oregon


·     Heat waves will intensify in both duration and magnitude. An increase in heat waves combined with an aging population is a set-up for public health emergencies. Some estimate 150% increase in deaths in Portland.

·     Higher rates of skin cancer (already documented; Glass & Hoover, 1989); eye damage and disease from UV and radiation exposure (Longstreth, 1991).

·     Rising outbreaks of diseases Disease outbreak from contamination of water by bacteria (e.g. salmonella, shigella), viruses (e.g. rotavirus), and protozoa (e.g. Giardia lamblia, amoebas, cryptosporidium, and cyclospora) all reproducing at greater rates in warmer water, and dispersed by flooding with mixed sewage and storm water (PSR, 2002).

·     Increase in vector-borne disease such as Lyme disease and West Nile Virus, from insects taking advantage of greater flooding and a longer breeding season (WHO, 2005; PSR, 2002). Malaria control will require more resources. (Malaria was endemic in Oregon during the 1800s.) Tick-borne illnesses are increasing. 2007 saw the highest number of cases of Lyme disease reported in Oregon in 20 years.

·     Increased exposure to ground-level ozone, created by sunlight hitting air pollutants. (WHO, 2005; PSR, 2002). Ozone can trigger asthma attacks among people who already have it. Higher ozone increases the number of children developing asthma. Ozone-related deaths from asthma, heart attacks and lung disease due to climate change is expected to increase by 4.5% over the next 50 years.

·     Increased rates of allergies from changes in production, distribution, dispersion and allergen content of aeroallergens and the growth and distribution of organisms that produce them (EPA, 2008). Increasing carbon dioxide levels significantly increases ragweed pollen production, providing yet another trigger for asthma attacks.

·     Reduced agricultural output from droughts or contamination from flooding, leading to an increase in imported food, which could bring additional diseases and reduce nutritional value of food (CCSP, 2008). It is predicted that changes in water availability, increased flooding and drought, and hotter, longer heat waves will affect eastern Oregon and the Willamette Valley's farming capacity. Sixty percent of crops in Oregon are irrigated. Higher late winter and early spring temperatures will result in earlier snow melt, more spring rain, and greater risk of flooding, and less snow melt for summer drinking water and irrigation.

·     People living in Oregon’s mountains and coastal areas will be particularly affected by increasing rainfall and subsequent mudslides, as well as rising sea level and salt-water contamination of drinking water, creating an increased risk for water-borne diseases. Thirty-three percent of Oregon's coast is already at risk of erosion.

·     Impacts on mental health and increased stress from displacement due to extreme weather events and other effects of climate change (Longstreth, 1991).

·     Crowding, higher rates of communicable disease spread, and increased pollution in urban areas as a result of climate refugees fleeing areas affected by sea level rising and other displacement events (WHO, 2005).


All Oregonians will be at risk from these climate change related health risks, however the type and degree of risk will be dependent on individual and community demographics. Populations that are particularly vulnerable to climate change related health risks include:


·     Individuals with impaired immune systems.

·     Lower income individuals and communities.

·     Rural communities that may be in areas more prone to temperature change, wildfire or disease outbreak and with less access to health care.

·     Children, pregnant women, and the elderly, predicted to be 20% of Oregon’s population by 2020, and who are more susceptible to health risks.


Oregon PSR urges President Obama to develop a more comprehensive, healthy, and sustainable energy policy


Oregon PSR has signed on to Environment Oregon's national letter to President Obama urging him to immediately convene stakeholders to finally adopt comprehensive clean energy reform.

Maye Thompson's KBOO Radio interview on The Future of Boardman


Hear Maye Thompson, RN, PhD, Oregon PSR's Environmental Health Program Director, discuss the future of the Boardman power plant in an interview on Portland's KBOO Radio.


Maye Thompson, RN, PhD testifies on the public health effects of PGE Boardman


Read Maye Thompson's testimony to Oregon's Environmental Quality Commission on the public health impact of PGE's Boardman coal plant (given 9-21-10) (pdf) 


Oregon PSR offers testimony at June 17, 2010 Environmental Quality Commission meeting


Read Oregon PSR's testimony from the June 17th, 2010 EQC Commission meeting, commending DEQ's denial of PGE's proposal to continue polluting Oregon's air until 2020

Catherine Thomasson, MD provides testimony on PGE's Boardman Coal Plant

Read Catherine Thomasson's testimony to the Department of Environmental Quality on behalf of Oregon PSR.


10 Ways You Can Reduce Global Warming Pollution

Federal, State, and Local Global Warming Legislation

Global Warming and Your Family's Health Brochure

Degrees of Danger: Health Effects of Climate Change and Energy in Oregon

LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas)

Oregon Global Warming Commission. Accessed 5/28/10.

Oregon Global Warming Commission: Report to the Legislature, January 2009. Accessed 5/28/10. 

Climate Impacts Group. Accessed 5/28/10.

Climate Solutions. Accessed 5/29/10

Healthy Climate Partnership. Accessed 5/28/10.

Vynne, S & Doppelt, B (2009) Climate Change Health Preparedness in Oregon: An Assessment of awareness, preparation and resource needs for potential public health risks associated with climate change. Institute for a Sustainable Environment, University of Oregon, with The Oregon Coalition of Local Health Officials, Environmental Health Committee. Accessed 5/28/10.

Power Point presentations:

Global Warming: Action for a Healthy Future

Selected Bibliography


Balbus, et al. 2008. Are We Ready? Preparing for the Public Health Challenges of Climate Change. Environmental Defense Fund, George Mason University and NACCHO. Accessed 5/28/10.

Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). 2008. Analyses of the effects of global change on human health and welfare and human systems: A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. [Gamble, J.L. (ed.), K.L. Ebi, F.G. Sussman, T.J. Wilbanks, (Authors)]. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA. Accessed 5/28/10.

Climate Impacts Group (CIG). Accessed 5/28/10.

Climate Leadership Initiative & National Center for Conservation Science and Policy (NCCSP). 2008. Preparing for Climate Change in the Rogue River Basin of Southwest Oregon. Accessed 5/28/10.

Climate Leadership Initiative & National Center for Conservation Science and Policy (NCCSP). 2009. Preparing for Climate Change in the Upper Willamette River Basin of Western Oregon. Accessed 5/28/10.

Confalonieri U, et al (2007): Human health. In Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). M.L. Parry, et al Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 391-431. Accessed 5/28/10

Ebi KL & Semenza JC (2008) Community Based Adaptation to the Health Impacts of Climate Change. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 35(5):501–507. Accessed 5/28/10.

Field CB et al (2007) North America. In Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). M.L. Parry,, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 617-652. Accessed 5/28/10.

Frumkin, H., and A.J. McMichael. 2008. Climate Change and Public Health. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 35 (5):403-410. Accessed 5/28/10.

Glass, A.G., and R.N. Hoover. 1989. The emerging epidemic of melanoma and squamous cell skin cancer. JAMA. 262:15. Accessed 5/28/10.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor, and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York. Accessed 5/28/10.

Climate Impacts Group (2008) Climate Change Scenarios. Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington. Accessed 5/28/10.

McMichael AJ, Climate change and human health: present and future risks. Lancet. 2006 Mar 11;367(9513):859-69. Accessed 5/28/10.

Mote, P et al. 2009. Scenarios of Future Climate for the Pacific Northwest. Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington. Accessed 5/28/10.

Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). (2002) Degrees of Danger: Health Effects of Climate Change and Energy in Oregon. Accessed 5/28/10.

Longstreth, J. 1991. Anticipated Public Health Consequences of Global Climate Change. Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol 96. pgs 139-144. Accessed 5/28/10.

Shea KM; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health. Global climate change and children's health. Pediatrics. 2007, 120(5):e1359-67. Accessed 5/28/10.

St. Louis, M.E., and J.J. Hess. 2008. Climate Change Impacts on and Implications for Global Health. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 35(5): 527-538.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2008. A Review of the Impacts of Climate Variability and Change on Aeroallergens and Their Associated Effects. Accessed 5/28/10.

World Health Organization. 2005. Climate and Health: Fact Sheet. Accessed 5/28/10.


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