H.E.L.P. For Climate Change and Health

John BalbusThis post is by John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Health Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund.

Last week was National Public Health Week, with a focus on how climate change harms health. The week’s activities flowed from the public health community into the Congress.

In the House, Center for Disease Control’s Howard Frumkin detailed the dangers to human health posed by climate change. In the Senate, Senator Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor and Pension (H.E.L.P.) committee also held hearings on climate change and health.

I was invited to give testimony before the H.E.L.P committee about the gaps in public health preparedness for climate change, based on a survey and upcoming report I wrote on the topic. Here are some of the highlights. My full testimony [PDF] is posted on our Web site.

Chairman Kennedy opened the hearing by saying, "Climate change will have a direct impact on health, and it’s time to pay attention to this problem." He noted two important roles for public health:

  1. Promoting healthy behaviors related to climate change, and
  2. Identifying health threats and opportunities from policy measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or improve community resiliency.

My testimony described a survey conducted by Environmental Defense Fund in collaboration with the National Association of City and County Health Officials and George Mason University. The survey asked local health department directors about their preparedness for climate change. Most were aware of the threats posed by climate change and believed that their jurisdictions would face serious health problems in the next 20 years as a result. But most also noted it was not a top priority for their departments, and they lacked the resources and expertise to develop planning tools for climate change impacts. Our report, based on this survey, will be released in just a couple of weeks.

I also emphasized that health threats like increased ozone from warmer temperatures can focus greenhouse gas reduction efforts on sources that also emit ozone precursors, like automobiles, trucks and power plants. Keep an eye on this space for a second upcoming report analyzing the ancillary health benefits of greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

This entry was posted in Health. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.