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Global Warming Report Defines Public Health Threat

April 6, 2007

(Washington, DC) -- The release of the Working Group II report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change bolsters the need for immediate action to address global warming.  The summary, which focuses on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, is intended for the use of policy makers and lays out the ramifications for human health if we do not act to slow, stop and reverse global warming.

Dr. Michael McCally, executive director for Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), commented that the report “reinforces the concerns expressed by the medical and public health communities.  Global warming will create real human health impacts, and in the U.S. heat and disease could lead to a public health crisis.” 

Among the findings of the report for North America and the U.S.:

  • some of the most significant impacts will be caused by increased deaths, disease and injury due to increasing floods, storms, heat waves, droughts, and fires
  • infectious diseases, such as those carried by insects and rodents, may become a growing problem
  • a likely increase in cardio-respiratory diseases because of the higher concentrations of ground level ozone (smog) that accompany higher air temperatures

PSR has been pointing out for several years the connections between global warming and human health.  Respiratory and cardiovascular disease, the threat of pests and water borne disease and the results of weather catastrophes like Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico are the very real and tangible results of global warming.  For additional analysis from PSR, click here.

The report also points to the potential rise in disease among human population because of warmer climates.  Increased cases of West Nile Virus from mosquitoes, Hantavirus from mice or Lyme disease from deer ticks all are potential threats to citizens in the U.S.   In large part this would occur as freezing days (those days in which the temperature does not rise to more than 32 degrees, F) begin to diminish.  Insects and other pests are not killed off in the usual numbers, and the rise in those populations corresponds to more contact with humans.

Extreme heat events create serious health problems.  According to the Centers for Disease Control more than 400 citizens in the U.S., often the most vulnerable populations, die from heat related illnesses annually.  When one of these heat events occurs in an urban area, the numbers can increase dramatically, as evidenced by the heat wave in the Midwest in 1995 that led to more than 700 deaths.

The extent to which these impacts become widespread will vary to the degree in which the U.S. and other nations respond.  PSR is encouraging the Congress to adopt mandatory controls on greenhouse gases that would help slow, stop and reverse global warming.  As the largest single emitter of greenhouse gases, the U.S. has a responsibility to show leadership in this global effort.  That leadership should help to spur other lagging nations to implement control efforts, especially those nations where the health impacts already are being felt.

“Leadership on global warming would go beyond controlling the environmental damage; it would help to stop a global health crisis that is making its way to our shores,” concluded McCally.

To download the full report, click here

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