Rethinking Healthcare

How climate change threatens health in your state

How climate change threatens health in your state

Posting in Cities

The NRDC has launched a new web tool that shows you how vulnerable your county is to climate change's effects on extreme heat, infectious diseases, air pollution, drought, and flooding.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has just launched a website called Climate Change Threatens Healthwww.nrdc.org/climatemaps – which shows the local effects of changing climate.

By zooming in to your state – and in some cases, city – on 5 different maps, you can see how your health is vulnerable (and learn about some steps to take to protect yourself and possibly combat the change).

“We need to start connecting the dots between climate change and our health,” says NRDC senior scientist Kim Knowlton. "If we stay on our present course, we can expect many of these trends and conditions to accelerate,” she adds.

These are the maps, and I’ve included what each has to show about California and New York:

1. Average number of extreme heat days (extreme heat vulnerability)

  • CA: An extreme heat wave in 2006 sent an excess 16,000 people to the emergency room. By the end of the century, there could be up to 100 more days per year with temperatures above 90F (32C) in Los Angeles.
  • NY: Heat-related mortality in the metropolitan New York region is projected to increase 70% by mid-century as temperatures soar.

2. Areas vulnerable to dengue fever (infectious disease vulnerability, more mosquitoes for longer)

  • CA: Between 1995-2005, 35 cases of dengue fever were reported. Between 1999-2010, there were 2,982 reported cases of West Nile virus.
  • NY: Between those same time periods, there were 208 cases of dengue fever reported and 518 cases of West Nile virus.

3. Ozone smog and allergenic ragweed (air pollution vulnerability)

  • CA: Asthma sickens an estimated 881,500 kids and 2,294,800 adults per year. Los Angeles is one of few counties that have both ragweed and unhealthy smog levels. And smoke pollution from wildfires make bad air days worse; the number of fires is expected to increase as much as 55% by late-century.
  • NY: Asthma sickens an estimated 415,900 kids and 1.3 million adults.

4. Average number of extreme low flow days (drought vulnerability)

  • CA: About 83% of the counties now face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of climate change. Parts of the state are likely to see limitations on water availability as demand exceeds supply by 2050.
  • NY: About 26% of the state's counties now face higher risks of water shortages.

5. Average number of extreme high flow days (flood vulnerability)

  • CA: Combined sewer overflows are a health risk for Sacramento and San Francisco. California has been declared a disaster area 6 times since 2000, due to damage from severe storms and flooding.
  • NY: What was once considered a 100-year flood could occur 10 times as often by mid-century. Changing rainfall and rising temperatures can increase risks of harmful, toxic algal blooms along New York's shorelines and in fresh water bodies.

"We need to prepare our community systems and health systems to meet a changing climate future," Knowlton says.

Only 13 states (AK, CA, FL, ME, MD, MI, NH, NY, OR, PA, VA, WA, WI) have developed climate adaptation strategies or state climate action plans that include at least one climate-health adaptation measure.

"Regardless of how successful we are at mitigating the greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change, serious climate-related impacts are unavoidable in California, and we must be ready to respond," says Lester Snow, the state's secretary for natural resources.

California’s climate adaptation plan includes developing heat-warning systems, expanding electronic reporting system to continuously monitor asthma cases, and reducing air pollution in ‘toxic hot spots.’

New York’s strategy includes employing smart grid technology to warn of power outage risks during high heat and pollution days and having a state green roof tax abatement program for those that use drought-resistant plants.

Image: NRDC

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure