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Climate Science Seminar: Human Health Impacts of the and Public Health Responses to Climate Change

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Date(s): November 18, 2008, 2 to 3:30 pm

Location: 4th Floor Conference Room, Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC

Contact: Neil Stiber, 202-566-1573, Email: stiber.neil@epa.gov

Presenter: Kristie L. Ebi (independent consultant with ESS, LLC)

Description: Climate change is projected to have far-reaching effects on human health and well-being. Heatwaves and other extreme weather events (e.g., floods, droughts, and windstorms) directly affect millions of people and cause billions of dollars of damage annually. There is a growing consensus that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will likely increase over coming decades as a consequence of climate change, suggesting that the associated health impacts also could increase. Indirectly, climate can affect health through affecting the number of people at risk of malnutrition, as well as through alterations in the geographic range and intensity of transmission of vectorborne, zoonotic, and food- and waterborne diseases, and changes in the prevalence of diseases associated with air pollutants and aeroallergens. Climate change has begun to alter natural systems, increasing the incidence and geographic range of some vectorborne and zoonotic diseases. Additional climate change is projected to significantly increase the number of people at risk of major causes of ill health, particularly malnutrition, diarrheal diseases, malaria, and other vectorborne diseases. Climate also can impact population health through climate-induced economic dislocation and environmental decline.

Public health has experience in coping with climate-sensitive health outcomes; the present state of public health reflects (among many other factors) the success or otherwise of the policies and measures designed to reduce climate-related risks. Climate change will make more difficult the control of a wide range of climate-sensitive health outcomes. Therefore, policies need to explicitly consider these risks in order to maintain current levels of control. In most cases, the primary response will be to enhance current health risk management activities. Although there are uncertainties about future climate change, failure to invest in adaptation may leave communities and nations poorly prepared, thus increasing the probability of severe adverse consequences. Equally, mitigation strategies, policies, and measures are needed to rapidly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, to improve health today and to prevent health impacts in future decades. Policy makers need to understand the potential impacts of climate change, the effectiveness of current adaptation and mitigation policies, and the range of choices available for enhancement of current or development of new policies and measures.

Dr. Kristie L. Ebi is an independent consultant (ESS, LLC) who has conducted research on the impacts of and adaptation to climate change for more than a decade. She has edited three books on climate change and health, and has more than 75 publications.


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