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New Lancet study calls climate change ‘the biggest global health threat of the 21st century’

Kim Knowlton

Posted May 15, 2009 in Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming

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The Lancet - one of the world's most prestigious medical journals - has just published a 41-page study with the University College London Institute, summarizing a commissioned report on climate change and health. It's stunning that The Lancet is devoting so much coverage to this subject now, although the journal does have a track record of having published other excellent individual climate-health papers over the years. The new urgency conveyed by the piece highlights how much is happening right now on this issue, as it:

  • Calls climate change "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century"
  • Highlights disproportionate health vulnerabilities that exacerbate inequities between rich & poor people, communities, and nations
  • Emphasizes the need for public health professional to engage in advocacy to reduce climate change, and to secure funding to address preparedness needs
  • Urges that climate change be considered in all levels of governance actions, and its health impacts placed high on agendas for planning, academic curriculum, conferences, journals, meetings, etc.

There's a new wealth of emerging evidence that's cited in The Lancet article - including a recent paper in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives on the 2006 California Heat Wave that NRDC scientists Gina Solomon, Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, and Kim Knowlton co-authored with colleagues from the California Dept of Public Health. In that paper we found over 16,000 excess emergency department visits and nearly 1,200 excess hospitalizations occurred across California in just a little over two weeks, at a cost of $133 million.

And what's NRDC doing today on climate-health preparedness? Our Global Warming & Health Project is researching the links between global warming & health, trying to educate the public & policymakers about those links, advocating for a better-prepared public health system that can adapt to climate's health challenges, and promote solutions that reduce greenhouse gases and harmful chemicals at the same time. We're also trying to get health to become an increasingly focal concern in local and state adaptation plans.

NRDC reports have projected future changes in unhealthy ground-level ozone smog under a changing climate, evaluated heat wave morbidity, mapped climate-ozone-pollen interactions -- and we're currently looking at factors that contribute to vector-borne disease vulnerability. Check out the Global Warming and Health Project's website, and please stay tuned for breaking stories on emerging climate science and health preparedness strategies. We're all in this together - so stop, look, and please listen to this Lancet article.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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