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Health Costs from Extreme Weather Events $14 Billion, We're Workin' On It

Theo Spencer

Posted November 8, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming

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Economists at the Universities of California at Berkeley and San Francisco, along with our team here at NRDC, released findings in a study Published in the journal Health Affairs today.

The economists and scientists investigated the health costs of six climate change-related events, and found the estimated costs totaled more than $14 billion (in 2008 U.S. dollars), and generated and over 760,000 interactions with the health care system.  The study team selected six types of events that will worsen with climate change in ways likely to harm human health -- ozone smog pollution, heat waves, hurricanes, mosquito-borne infectious disease, river flooding, and wildfires. The health effects and related costs of these events offer an indication of the threats we will increasingly face under a warming climate.

There’s a good Reuters story on the study here.

NRDC Scientist and Lead Author Kim Knowlton said:

When extreme weather hits, we hear about the property damage and insurance costs. The healthcare costs never end up on the tab. But that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Right now, there’s a gaping hole in our understanding of the health-related costs of climate change. This report begins the work to fill that void. Only by having a clear sense of health impacts and their costs, can we work to reduce them.

You can read Kim’s blog on the study here. She points out in her blog:

NRDC’s “Climate Change Threatens Health” webpages (at www.nrdc.org/climatemaps) map five major climate-health vulnerabilities across the US, so you can see how climate change affects health right in your backyard. The webpages also tell you what (if anything) is being done to prepare and adapt to climate change where you live, and actions you can take to protect your and your family’s health.

Climate change endangers human health, and costs us money in both lost and interrupted lives and increased health care.

More information is included on the NRDC webpage, including access to the full text of the Health Affairs paper, an NRDC factsheet with a US map showing the 6 climate change-related event sites, and a description of the study methods.

The study is the first to develop a uniform method of quantifying the associated health costs for extreme weather and disease events that are expected to be exacerbated by climate change. The analysis spotlights cases in six specific categories in the U.S. occurring during 2002 through 2009, including: Florida hurricanes, North Dakota floods, California heat waves and wild fires, nationwide ozone air pollution, and Louisiana West Nile virus outbreaks.

This group of events resulted in an estimated 1,689 premature deaths, 8,992 hospitalizations, 21,113 emergency room visits, and 734,398 outpatient visits, totaling over 760,000 encounters with the health care system. Such extreme climate-change related events and their impacts are projected to increase in severity and frequency as climate change continues to go unchecked.

Only 13 U.S. states currently include public health measures in their climate change adaptation plans. With a better understanding of the economic impacts and health risks, as offered by the study, government agencies and key players can create effective partnerships for climate-health preparedness that aggressively limit and reduce public health damage. Investments in climate change mitigation at the local, state and national levels, married with analyses of the climate change health costs to inform this strategic planning, will save billions of dollars in health costs and save lives.

blogged on this year’s record 14 extreme weather events costing over $1 billion each recently. I noted in that blog:

Recent influential reports have made the direct link between the rise in extreme weather events and rising carbon pollution. More extreme weather events are becoming the norm, they’re costing companies money, and they’re putting electricity supplies at risk.

The good news is that people are taking action to do address these climate impacts, they’re getting prepared and cities are at the forefront, as our Thirsty for Answers report points out. In my blog mentioned above, I also cite several other Preparedness examples, here, here and here.

Finally, as Kim notes in her blog:

Proactive public health solutions to climate disasters need to be systematized now to reduce inevitable climate change-related peril.  We hope the Health Affairs report provides the methodology that will allow our leaders to begin to do just that.

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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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