Toll of Climate Change on Human Health Addressed During Summit Hosted By UCLA School of Public Health
Date: October 17, 2007
Contact: Sarah Anderson (email)
Phone: (310) 267-0440
are advised to add "severe weather" preparedness to their earthquake
plans in order to prevent human casualties associated with climate
Preparedness was a recurrent theme
during a panel discussion hosted by the UCLA School of Public Health on
the potential impact changes in climate could have on people's
health. More than 300 people attended the Climate Change Summit,
where climate change and environmental health experts provided insight
on ways climate change such as rising temperatures and severe
weather-related events could increase the rates of water- and
food-borne illness, infectious diseases, illnesses caused by air
pollution, and heat-related illness and death. The panelists
discussed what individuals, the public health community, and state and
local government can do to put in place preparedness plans to prevent
weather-related illness and mortality.
In California, where temperatures are expected to increase by 3-12
degrees by the year 2100, according to a report from the California
Climate Change Center, longer, more frequent and more severe heat
conditions will adversely affect people’s capacity to work, especially
among those who labor outdoors. Agricultural and construction
workers in particular will be at increased risk for heat strain, mental
fatigue, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, explained Dr. Tord
Kjellstrom, an environmental and occupational epidemiologist with 35
years of experience in health hazards related to transportation and
"Climate change is a reality and the consequences for human health are
being realized and will only worsen without decisive action," said Dr.
Linda Rosenstock, dean of the UCLA School of Public Health. "The
School of Public Health convened many of the top thinkers and
researchers in the world to launch a public dialogue on the effects
that climate change will have on human health and what can be done."
Dr. Jonathan Patz, associate professor of Environmental Studies and
Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,
pointed out that higher temperatures and drier weather would lead to
higher concentrations of CO2, increasing the levels of allergens.
The public health community anticipates that this will result in higher
rates of asthma, particularly in large urban centers such as Los
Angeles, where pollution may rise by 75 to 85 percent, according to
some climate change scenarios.
Forecasts also indicate that climate change will affect water
distribution worldwide, making dry places drier and wet places
wetter. Flooding increases the risk of water contamination,
tainting fish and shellfish supplies for human consumption.
Changes in precipitation patterns and changes in the onset of winter
and spring seasons are also anticipated to alter the geographic
distribution of plants and insects. These effects, combined with
other human activities such as deforestation, logging, and road
building, could dramatically affect the range and severity of outbreaks
of existing infectious diseases (e.g. West Nile virus and Malaria) and
result in the emergence of new infectious agents that threaten human
Nathan Wolfe, professor of epidemiology in the UCLA School of Public
Health, discussed how the school is playing a lead role in developing
the technology and establishing the infrastructure to monitor and
prevent the spread of infectious diseases worldwide. He also
provided examples of how human activity has resulted in the emergence
of new infectious diseases in Africa, and discussed current efforts to
monitor and prevent the spread of future outbreaks.
Dr. Gina Solomon, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC), urged the public health community to focus on
increased tracking of human diseases, monitoring of harmful algal
blooms that could threaten beach and shellfish safety and enhanced
identification of geographic areas that are vulnerable to water
quantity and quality problems. "Just as Californians know what to do in
the event of an earthquake, people now need to learn what to do to
prepare for global warming," she added.
Dr. Solomon outlined a number of actions that would not only offset
the impact of climate change but also protect human health, such as: 1)
increasing water-use efficiency, 2) limiting development in areas like
wetlands or areas that are vulnerable to fires, floods and landslides;
3) creating nature reserves designed to accommodate future climate
changes and migrations of plants and animals; 4) reducing the impact of
urban heat island syndrome; and 5) using permeable pavements so that
storm water runoff can be used to recharge groundwater systems.
Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, outlined
strategies being developed by the State of California to reduce global
warming emissions in response to the California Global Warming
Solutions Act of 2006. The Air Resources Board is pursuing 37
early actions for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, ranging from
developing a Low Carbon Fuel Standard and creating systems that track
refrigerants to developing guidance and protocols to help local
governments reduce GHG emissions.
The Summit also included a discussion by J.R. DeShazo, UCLA professor
of public policy and social research, regarding the role that
California’s current efforts to reduce the impact of climate change are
likely to play in the development of federal regulation.
"We would like people to gain a realistic understanding of the
challenges California will face as a result of climate change and a
concrete sense of how we can work together to lessen the resulting
human suffering," said Hilary Godwin, professor and chair of the
UCLA Department of Environmental Health Sciences. "By engaging
the general public and scientific community in these discussions, our
goal is to empower the individuals attending this summit with an
understanding of what they can personally do to benefit human health
and the environment."
For more information on the Climate Change Summit, please visit: www.ph.ucla.edu/climatechange
The UCLA School of Public Health is dedicated to enhancing the public's
health by conducting innovative research; training future leaders and
health professionals; translating research into policy and practice;
and serving local, national and international communities. For more
information, visit www.ph.ucla.edu.
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