…was released the day after Thanksgiving, November 23, 2018. It is an annual report that outlines climate effects and impacts across a range of sectors. It includes a section on health (section 6), though all climate issues identified in the report (and especially Economy, Water, and Agriculture) are interconnected and arguably only meaningful from the impact on human health and well being.
While the media gave the report significant focus and noted the interconnected nature of the impacts, some reporting in the popular media led with the possibility of a 10% loss of GDP by the year 2100 due to the effects of climate damage.
This framing is not helpful for encouraging adaptation or mitigation efforts, as it is possible for the superficial reader to conclude that a 10% loss incurred over 80 years from now is trivial, easy to account for, and a strict matter of financial investment and innovation within capital markets. The Assessment itself handles these topics deftly and with great detail.
Leading discussion on climate damage with future GDP loss does not account for what will be a significant (and possibly catastrophic) burden on health care systems, the inequitable impact of climate damage on vulnerable populations, nor the socio-political interconnected impacts of climate damage which span our organizations at local, national, and international levels.
Viewing this issue primarily through a future-GDP-effect lens may encourage the reader to be shocked, perhaps express outrage and dismay, but do nothing, while our emissions policy decisions today can have an important effect on the quality of life in 2100.
This is the text from the Fourth National Climate Assessment about Health:
Impacts from climate change on extreme weather and climate-related events, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food, and water increasingly threaten the health and well-being of the American people, particularly populations that are already vulnerable.
Changes in temperature and precipitation are increasing air quality and health risks from wildfire and ground-level ozone pollution. Rising air and water temperatures and more intense extreme events are expected to increase exposure to waterborne and foodborne diseases, affecting food and water safety. With continued warming, cold-related deaths are projected to decrease and heat-related deaths are projected to increase; in most regions, increases in heat-related deaths are expected to outpace reductions in cold-related deaths. The frequency and severity of allergic illnesses, including asthma and hay fever, are expected to increase as a result of a changing climate. Climate change is also projected to alter the geographic range and distribution of disease-carrying insects and pests, exposing more people to ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as Zika, West Nile, and dengue, with varying impacts across regions. Communities in the Southeast, for example, are particularly vulnerable to the combined health impacts from vector-borne disease, heat, and flooding. Extreme weather and climate-related events can have lasting mental health consequences in affected communities, particularly if they result in degradation of livelihoods or community relocation. Populations including older adults, children, low-income communities, and some communities of color are often disproportionately affected by, and less resilient to, the health impacts of climate change. Adaptation and mitigation policies and programs that help individuals, communities, and states prepare for the risks of a changing climate reduce the number of injuries, illnesses, and deaths from climate-related health outcomes.