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Climate Change Can Affect Your Health

By Jazelle Hunt
 Washington Correspondent | 7/4/2014, midnight
According to the Office of Minority Health, In 2011 African Americans were 20 percent more likely than whites to have ...
The coal-fired Plant Scherer is shown in operation early Sunday, June 1, 2014, in Juliette, Ga. The Obama administration unveiled a plan Monday to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly a third over the next 15 years, in a sweeping initiative to curb pollutants blamed for global warming. But doctors across the country and now seeing more and more patients affected by climate change. (John Amis/AP Photo)

“When I was working in emergency medicine, I saw lots of uninsured people, and many had done every home trick they could to stave off [an asthma] attack,” said Dr. Benjamin. “And then they still had to wait because they had no insurance.”

These physical stressors are also taking a psychological toll, according to another report. “Beyond Storms & Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change” explores the mental, physical, and community health impacts of the effects of climate change. This compilation of existing research and expert analysis from climate change solutions nonprofit, ecoAmerica, and the American Psychological Association, finds that Americans will increasingly suffer mental health impacts at the hands of climate change.

“The impacts of climate change on human psychology and well-being arise through two main pathways,” the report reads. “Some impacts will arise from the direct physical impacts of climate change, while others will arise as a result of climate change’s more indirect impacts on human systems and infrastructure.”

The report offers several studies involving Hurricane Katrina victims as an example of a direct and severe hit to mental wellness resulting from climate change. For years after the storm, many survivors experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, “complicated grief,” and increased domestic abuse.

Indirect, or gradual impacts are more difficult to quantify due to a dearth of research. In one example, the study details a loss of personal or occupational identity after losing possessions in weather events, wildfires, and floods, or being unable to continue lifelong, sometimes generational occupations due to environmental changes (such as oceanic changes that destroy shrimping families’ livelihoods). In another example, the study discusses the relationship between rising temperatures and community aggression that has been well documented, particularly in Black communities.

Both reports find that women (particularly mothers), children, the elderly, and low-income families are the most vulnerable to climate change effects. They also both outline suggestions for people and communities to guard themselves against the adverse effects.

Dr. Christie Manning, co-author of the second report and visiting assistant professor of Environmental Studies at Macalester College, asserts that strong neighborhood networks and an emergency plan set in advance are the greatest defenses, for example.

“At the national level we see a lot of stalling and stalemate, but at the local and city level they realize this is something people need to be prepared for,” she explains. “Cities are seeing the infrastructure costs. Municipalities are really engaged in this idea of being prepared, and resilient.”

The good news is that most communities are bracing for impact by beefing up support services. In the beginning of May, The White House released the Third Annual Climate Assessment, and extensively reviewed report, created by a team of more than 300 experts, and guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee. Almost all science professionals have come to the same conclusion as the report: that climate change is affecting this generation now, and that most Americans are feeling the changes.

“Not a lot of people know a climate scientist, so when you say 98 percent of climate scientists say this is happening…it might not mean much to you,” said Dr. Mona Sarfaty, director of the 4C Program at George Mason. “But everybody knows a doctor.”