On April 6, President Obama declared April 6-12 “National Public Health Week,” and subsequently unveiled a series of executive orders to collect data and spread information about how climate change-associated risks will impact the nation’s public health system. The White House stated that its initiatives “will allow us to better understand, communicate, and reduce the health impacts of climate change on our communities.”

The Third National Climate Assessment, released May 2014, described the multiple threats climate changes poses to public health domestically. It could lead to a higher prevalence of vector-borne diseases (as mosquitos and ticks spread north), deteriorating air quality (many climate-warming pollutants, such as soot and smog, are also directly harmful to humans), and physical threats from wildfires and other extreme weather. These negative health impacts are already occurring. Each year, more Americans are victims of asthma, wildfires, heat waves, and longer allergy seasons—which are all exacerbated by climate change. Children, the elderly, low-income communities of color and the immunocompromised are disproportionately at risk.

The Administration is taking five actions to increase the preparedness of the public health system, including: 1) convening private businesses, academics, public health professionals and other interested stakeholders to discuss climate impacts on health during National Public Health Week; 2) identifying successful solutions from state and local leaders in an “Adaptation in Action Report” released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); 3) increasing accessibility to government health datasets; 4) working with educators to prepare the next generations of public health professionals for climate change impacts; and, 5) releasing the best available scientific climate impact data in a “Climate and Health Assessment” report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

The public health initiatives rely heavily on participation from businesses, academia, public health professionals, and other stakeholders. Nine corporations, including Google and Microsoft, will use their technical skills to assist in disseminating and collecting information. Google has committed to donating 10 million hours of computing power to collect and map data relating to infectious diseases such as dengue fever and malaria, as well as natural gas and oil flares. Microsoft will construct an experimental ‘drone’ system to detect and map infectious pathogens in the environment before they can cause illness to humans. The White House has also engaged other stakeholders, including 30 deans of medical, public health and nursing schools, to commit to incorporate climate change’s effects on public health into their schools’ curriculums.

These measures build on other ongoing initiatives to reduce domestic contributions to climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to finalize its ruling this summer restricting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions from existing power plants. Earlier this year, President Obama directed the EPA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue new targets for fuel efficiency and GHG emissions standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles by March 2016. In addition, President Obama increased the use of energy efficiency and called for additional GHG emission reductions across the federal government. These actions form the basis of the U.S. plan to reduce domestic GHG emissions before the international climate negotiations take place in Paris this December. Earlier this month, the United States formally submitted to the United Nations its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which spells out how it is planning to cut carbon emissions between 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.


Author: Samuel Beirne