Thank you to the 28 people who attended our STAY COOL meeting on March 9 featuring Dr. Bruce Bekkar. Here is a summary of his presentation on climate change and the implications on public health.
Global temperature has been increasing significantly, leading to an amplified hydrological cycle, or what some are calling “extreme weather on steroids.” The incidence of extreme weather events has tripled since the 1980s.
More than 90% of the retained heat in our atmosphere has been absorbed by the world’s oceans. Rising ocean temperatures are fueling extreme weather conditions. Once such example is Patricia, the monster hurricane that hit Mexico in fall 2015.
Additionally, a giant algae bloom in the Pacific that stretches from Santa Barbara all the way to Alaska is causing alarm for ocean scientists, and threatening marine species. Roughly half of all marine life is threatened due to warming oceans, while more than 70 percent of coral reefs are in jeopardy. Warming oceans also affect our public health, not only because of amplified storms, and the stress that comes with them, but because the impact on seafood. (To read more about how ocean algae can lead to a condition commonly known as “amnesic shellfish poisoning” in humans: click here)
Heat waves are becoming more intense and frequent due to climate change. More than 650 deaths were linked to the California heatwave of 2006 and five years ago more than 55,000 died in Russia’s heat wave and resulting wild fires.
Every 10 degree increase in daily apparent temperature above the local average results in more hospitalizations and deaths – specifically, an increase of 6.3 percent in respiratory admissions and 4.9 percent increase in cardiovascular admissions and a similar rise in mortality. Poor air quality from wildfires and high ozone pollution is increasing respiratory and cardiac health problems, and already causing death in regions around the world. One example is in China where annually hundreds of thousands of deaths can be linked to poor air quality.
Allergy sufferers beware: global warming is increasing and extending the pollen season. And now, some scientists believe that smog may even be linked to obesity (click here for the article Dr. Bekkar cited on the pregnant rat study).
Tropical illnesses, such as West Nile Virus and the Zika virus, are finding an expanding habitat due to warming climates. In California, there were more than 40 deaths due to West Nile Virus in 2015- 5 in San Diego.
We can also expect food shortages because crops can’t adapt quickly enough to extreme weather changes. Pests that harm crops tolerate the changes much better and are destroying more crops.
It’s our most vulnerable populations, our children and elderly, as well as the chronically ill and poor, that will suffer the consequences. Bill McKibben points out that the the poorest people in developing countries will suffer the most- an “environmental economic apartheid.” Climate change is an imminent threat to children’s health, with over 85 percent of impacts expected on children five years and younger according to the WHO. The Lancet, the British medical journal, recently declared “climate change is a medical emergency.”
However, there is hope. We have far exceeded predictions for renewable energy usage in our country and around the world and the price for wind and solar power continues to drop. The solar energy industry now employs more US workers than that for oil and gas extraction. Moreover, there is an opportunity to gain more political commitment on climate change policies since these issues are clearly affecting global public health, and those populations we most want to protect: our grandparents and grandchildren.
Also at our meeting, Carl Yaeckel told us about Citizens’ Climate Lobby, who advocates for climate action on a national level. They are working toward legislation that would levy a fee on fossil fuels and distribute revenue to US households. To learn more about CCL, you can participate in a free conference call, held every Wednesday at 5 pm. Learn more: www.citizensclimatelobby.org.
Sandy Atkinson shared details about the Sunday, May 15 EcoFest event in Encinitas at the Coastal Roots Farm. Learn more: www.EcoFestEncinitas.org.
Finally, STAY COOL needs volunteers to help at our upcoming EarthFair booth on April 17. We also need grandparents and grandkids to walk in the parade that day at Balboa Park. Please email Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can spare an hour or two to join us.