The Pew Center: Warming May Pose Risks to Human Health

Elderly, infirmed and poor most likely to be impacted by climate change caused by global warming.

Published: 13-Dec-2000

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- Global climate change may exacerbate health risks for the elderly, the infirm, and the poor -- although there is substantial capacity to reduce these risks -- according to a new report commissioned by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. And while the study finds that over the next few decades the United States may have sufficient resources to prevent the worst possibilities, poorer countries may not fare as well.

While current health concerns in the United States tend to revolve around such lifestyle issues as alcohol and tobacco use, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition, climate change raises the possibility that elevated temperatures, air contaminants, and changes in precipitation patterns could pose increased health risks. This new study, written by public health experts Dr. John Balbus of The George Washington University and Dr. Mark Wilson of The University of Michigan, sifts through the evidence of climate-related health risks and reaches the following conclusions:

       *  If climate change results in more heat waves and air pollution          episodes, disproportionately large and negative impacts on the          elderly, the infirm, and the poor are likely to result.         *  While there are indications that a global warming trend may increase          the risks of vector- and water-borne diseases, sanitation and public          health systems in the United States are generally sufficient to          prevent these diseases from dramatically increasing in incidence or          distribution.  However, many developing countries lack the resources          and public health systems needed to prevent such outbreaks.  The          report says government officials the world over need to maintain and          strengthen public health systems, including increased surveillance,          and improved hygiene, water quality, and vector control.         *  The linkages between climate and human health are complex and not          fully understood.  However, uncertainty about adverse health effects          should not be interpreted as certainty of no adverse health effects.          Moreover, the potential for unexpected events -- e.g., sudden changes          in climate or the emergence of new diseases -- cannot be ruled out,          the report says.  

"There have been a lot of claims and counter-claims about the potential human health impacts of global climate change," said Pew Center President Eileen Claussen. "An honest assessment must acknowledge that the United States can probably avoid the worst scenarios of disease outbreaks from climate-related causes.

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