Under the weather? Climate change effect on public health getting new emphasis
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Global warming often seems distant and abstract, especially things like shrinking sea ice. But a turbulent climate also poses lots of relatable risks to human health, from allergies and asthma to algae blooms and animal-borne diseases. And according to George Luber, chief of climate research at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are the risks that need public attention – even if it means less publicity for polar bears.
“We need to reframe the issue of climate change,” Luber told an audience in Atlanta recently. “It’s not just about polar bears, penguins and plants. It’s about people.”
Almost every angle of climate change eventually affects human health, even faraway ice loss. But certain changes have a more immediate impact on people, from heat stroke to less direct scourges like malnutrition or malaria. Publicizing these public health risks can not only convey the urgency of climate change to a wider swath of people, Luber says, but it can foster more targeted, localized plans for adapting to a warmer world.
As the CDC’s associate director for climate change, Luber is in charge of a monumental task: preparing 314 million Americans for the health effects of climate change. “There’s a pretty significant range of impacts, to say the least, but the public health consequences have been largely unaddressed,” he said July 12 at a roundtable discussion hosted by Southface, an Atlanta-based sustainability organization. “My little group at CDC represents the only federal program on the public health effects of climate change.”
While global warming is a planetary problem, Luber stresses the importance of avoiding boilerplate adaptation strategies. “Climate change is not happening equally around the world. Any adaptation plan has to be as local as possible,” he says.
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