Global Warming Bringing Extreme Weather and Health Impacts

Implications for Public Health and Social Justice Outlined in New Report

09-18-2009 // Aileo Weinmann

Global warming is making hot days hotter, rainfall and flooding heavier, storms stronger and droughts more severe. As the Senate prepares to take up clean energy legislation, the National Wildlife Federation, Harvard Medical School, the NAACP and the Apollo Alliance hosted a Congressional briefing today to emphasize the public health and social justice issues that any legislation must address.

"With global warming pushing these extremes beyond their historical limits, we can no longer plan for the future based on past climate conditions," said Dr. Amanda Staudt, climate scientist, National Wildlife Federation. "Global warming will continue to impact our everyday lives and will have grave implications for public health and social justice."

"Heavy downpours pose significant health risks for water-borne diseases such as toxic E. coli and Cryptosporidiumand create conditions conducive to upsurges of diseases carried by mosquitoes (like West Nile virus) and rodents (like Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome)," said Dr. Paul R. Epstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard Medical School. "More than half of water-borne diseases reported in the US between 1948 and 1994 were preceded by periods of heavy rainfall and flooding."

To explain the bigger picture and provide recommendations for how to cope with projected changes and how to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, More Extreme Weather: Implications for Public Health and Social Justice details how:

  • Global warming is bringing more extreme heat waves, flooding, storms and droughts
  • Impacts are already occurring across the nation
  • Some people are more vulnerable than others to intensifying weather/climate extremes
  • More and more Americans will be living in vulnerable locations
  • Action to reduce global warming pollution is urgently needed

"The American public needs to understand that global warming is a health issue and the most vulnerable people to its dangerous impacts are inner city African-Americans. The time for enacting comprehensive climate change policies is now," said Hilary O. Shelton, senior vice president for Advocacy and director of the NAACP DC Bureau.

The long-term warming trend is undeniable: according to NASA, the 10 warmest years on record globally all occurred within the 12-year period 1997-2008. Weather and climate disasters are becoming more common and more expensive in the United States. In the 1980s, a billion-dollar weather disaster was relatively rare. The last decade has seen multiple billion-dollar disasters each year.

Underserved communities and people who are old, young or already sick are at greatest risk from the impacts of global warming and extreme weather. Hurricane Katrina is a prime example: the poor and elderly lost the most because of where they lived and their limited ability to get out of harm's way. About 310,000 African Americans living in New Orleans were displaced by hurricane damage, a significantly larger proportion than any other group.

"The intensity of the hurricanes since Katrina in 2005 and unusually high temperatures have become the norm--impacting the lives of all Gulf Coast residents, including me," said Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance and former chair of the Board of the National Wildlife Federation who resides in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "I've dealt with frequent evacuations and the personal loss of a friend as a result of heat stroke."

As population continues to grow rapidly in cities, along the coasts and in the South, more and more Americans will be living in vulnerable locations. People of color will be disproportionately impacted because their populations are concentrated in these areas. For example, 56 percent of African Americans live in the Southern United States or in urban areas.

"We must take action to reduce global warming pollution now, while there is still time to avert the worst impacts," said Joe Mendelson, director of Global Warming Policy, National Wildlife Federation. "Investing in a clean energy future and reducing the carbon pollution that causes global warming is the essential path forward that will help communities nationwide, especially the most vulnerable. The good news is that a clean energy future can also create new economic opportunities for underserved communities--for example, transitioning to clean energy could create more than 430,000 jobs for African Americans by 2030," according to the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative.

National Wildlife Federation is America's conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.

Contact: Aileo Weinmann, communications manager, 202-797-6801, weinmanna@nwf.org

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