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NPHW 2008: Climate Change and Preparedness?

April 7, 2008

Every year, the American Public Health Association holds a week-long campaign focusing on raising awareness for a critical public health issue, calling it National Public Health Week. Last year’s focus was on preparedness issues, and this year is on the effects of climate change on the public’s health. As a good public health citizen, I’ve decided to participate with a series of three posts on climate change and how it will affect preparedness issues. Actually, scratch that, it won’t affect preparedness — it already is.

Already?! Whatchou talkin’ bout, Jimmy? I know that there are those who feel that climate change is nothing but a ruse by long-haired hippies to, um, do something genuinely evil. In the scientific community, though, the evidence is overwhelming. Being a science-based outfit, we tend to come down on the side that global warming is real, and having real effects. One only needs to read the Science section of any major American newspaper. From changes beneath our feet, to cataclysmic events a world away, the evidence that something unusual is going on abounds.

What does that mean for public health in general, and preparedness specifically? Well, the CDC has a great, free, journal called Emerging Infectious Diseases. To say that it’s technical would be an understatement, though just a quick scan of the headlines over time will show a number of unusual disease outbreaks and diseases showing up in uncommon places. As the temperature of our planet changes, so does the range of its flora and fauna. Diseases are migrating in ways never seen before, vectors are showing up in places that are unprepared to handle the resulting infections, low-lying lands are being exposed to threats of inundation unlike that of any other time in human history.

All of those issues are directly related to extreme changes in the climate. And they don’t even touch on the human response to climate change. You think we’ve got terrorism now? Wait until Renaissance Island becomes connected to mainland Uzbekistan. Wait until the Colorado River runs dry. Wait until every arable acre in China has become desert. These are the scenarios that should be keeping our government officials up at night.

I’ll touch on some of these issues this week, and encourage everyone to take note of NPHW events going on around them. Also note that APHA has established a blog and a Twitter page for NPHW.

Image borrowed, with apologies.

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