Background and General Discussion
The impact of greenhouse gas emissions on both human beings and the global climate has been greatly debated in recent years (1). According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there has been a documented increase in global temperature measurements of 0.3° to 0.6° C over the last century (2). Further, a recent report from the National Research Council underscores the importance of anthropogenic (man-made) aerosols as agents of climate change (3,4). Purpose The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) supports the precept that anthropogenic sources, specifically greenhouse gases, are responsible for a significant portion of the measured change in global climate. Further, NEHA supports the concept of an association between global warming and an increased risk to public health. Reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere will benefit human health. This position paper reviews current information on the status of global climate change with particular emphasis on the implications for environmental and public health. It is intended to be used as a basis from which environmental and public health practitioners and colleagues in related fields can initiate discussions with policy makers at all levels; local, state, national, and worldwide. Problem Statement Currently, global temperatures are projected to increase by 1.0° to 4.5° C during the next century, primarily because of a projected doubling of greenhouse gas levels (58).
According to Patz et al., global climate change could have both direct and indirect effects on human health (9). Severe heat waves could cause an increase in morbidity and mortality, as in the over 500 heat-related deaths seen over the course of a few days in Chicago during the summer of 1995 (1012). Additionally, ozone, a photochemical pollutant, is typically created under conditions of hot temperatures and stagnant air containing nitrogen oxides. Currently more than 51 million Americans live in areas where ozone levels exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (U.S. EPA's) standard of 0.12 parts per million (13).
As noted by several researchers, climate change is partly responsible for the recent resurgence and re-emergence of some diseases, especially vector-borne diseases (1417). Warmer temperatures and changes in rainfall have created ideal conditions for vectors and the pathogens to survive in some areas that were previously inhospitable to them. As an example, tropical and subtropical areas that favor malaria-transmitting mosquitoes would expand, leading to an additional 50 to 80 million cases of malaria each year by the end of the next century (18,19).
Global climate change may also be a threat to agriculture, particularly as a result of a drop in monsoonal rains available (20,21). Aerosols formed from sulfur compounds, along with greenhouse gases, have been projected to combine with the current greenhouse effect to cause a seven to 14 percent drop in monsoon rainfall over India and parts of China by the middle of the next century, which is considered to be a significant threat to agriculture (18). Additionally, loss of arable land due to rising oceans (22,23) and shifts in arable zones (24) also threatens agriculture. All of these could put an additional 300 million people at risk from hunger (25).
Upon adoption, NEHA should disseminate this paper as widely as possible by release to the membership, publication in the Journal of Environmental Health, provision of copies of this paper to affiliates to share with their members, and provision of copies of this paper to similar professional associations for their review. Affiliates and members should be encouraged to provide comments to legislators based upon the information contained herein, or to provide a copy of this document as augmentation to their own comments.
The committee foresees the only fiscal impact on NEHA with the adoption of this paper to be the cost of making and mailing copies.
(Original paper prepared by Timothy Radtke, M.S.E.H., C.I.H. (Chair), Environmental Health Scientist, U.S. Public Health Service; Ginger L. Gist, Ph.D., D.A.A.S., Senior Environmental Health Scientist, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; and Thomas E. Wittkopf, M.P.A., R.S. Director, Environmental Health Division, Marathon County Health Department.)
1. Anonymous (September 13, 1996), "Strengthened U.S. Commitment Lights a Fire Under Global Warming Debate," p. A4.
2. Heinloth, K., and R.P. Karimanzira (1994), "Outcomes and Policy Recommendations from the IPCC-AFOS Working Group on Climate Change Response Strategies and Emission Reductions," Climatic Change, 27:139-146.
3. National Research Council, Panel on Aerosol Radiative Forcing and Climate Change (1996), A Plan for a Research Program on Aerosol Radiative Forcing and Climate Change, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
4. Schwartz, S.E., and M.O. Andreae (1996), "Uncertainty in Climate Change Caused by Aerosols," Science, 272:1121-1122.
5. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1990), Climate Change: The IPCC Scientific Assessment, J.T. Houghton, J.J. Ephraums, and G.J. Jenkins, eds. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
6. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1992), Climate Change 1992: The Supplementary Report to the IPCC Scientific Assessment, J.T. Houghton, B.A. Callander, and S.K. Varney, eds., Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
7. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1994), Radiative Forcing of Climate Change, the 1994 Report of the Scientific Assessment Working Group of IPCC: Summary for Policy Makers, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
8. Sellers, P.J., L. Bounoua, G.J. Collatz, D.A. Dazlich, S.O. Los, D.A. Randall, et al. (1996), "Comparison of Radiative and Physiological Effects of Doubled CO2 on Climate," Science, 271:1402-1406.
9. Patz, J.A., J.M. Balbus-Kornfeld, T.A. Burke, and P.R. Epstein (1996), "Global Climate Change and Emerging Infectious Diseases," JAMA, 275(3):217-223.
10. Haines, A., and C. Fuchs (1991), "Potential Impacts on Health of Atmospheric Change," Journal of Public Health Medicine, 13:69-80.
11. Kalkstein, L.S., and K.E. Smoyer (1993), "The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health: Some International Implications," Experencia, 49:469-479.
12. Grant, L.D. (1990), "Respiratory Effects Associated with Global Climate Change," Global Atmospheric Change and Public Health, J.C. White, ed., New York: Elsevier.
13. Breslin, K. (1995), "Focus: The Impact of Ozone," Environmental Health Perspectives, 103(7-8):660-664.
14.Morse, S.S. (1995), "Factors in the Emergence of Infectious Diseases," Emerging Infectious Diseases, 1:7-15.
15. Morse, S.S., and A. Schluederberg (1990), "Emerging Viruses: The Evolution of Viruses and Viral Diseases," Journal of Infectious Diseases, 162:1-7.
16. Morse, S.S. (1993), "Examining the Origins of Emerging Viruses," Emerging Viruses, S.S. Morse, ed., New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 10-28.
17. Satcher, D. (1995), "Emerging Infections: Getting Ahead of the Curve," Emerging Infectious Diseases, 1:1-6.
18. Potential Health Effects of Climatic Change (1990), World Health Organization.
19. Martens, W.J.M., T.H. Jetten, A.J. McMichael, L.W. Niessen, and J. Rotmans (1995), "Potential Impact of Global Climate Change on Malaria Risk," Environmental Health Perspectives, 103(5):458-464.
20. Brock, C.A., K.R. Chan, P. Hamill, H.H. Jonsson, and J.C. Wilson (1995), "Particle Formation in the Upper Tropical Troposphere: A Source of Nuclei for the Stratospheric Aerosol," Science, 270:1650-1653.
21. Mudur, G. (1995), "Monsoon Shrinks with Aerosol Models," Science, 270:1922.
22. Mitchell, J., J. Gregory, T. Johns, and S. Tett (1995), "Climate Response to Increasing Levels of Greenhouse Gases and Sulphate Aerosols," Nature, 376:501-504.
23. Rott, H., T. Nagler, and P. Skvarca (1996), "Rapid Collapse of Northern Larsen Ice Shelf, Antarctica," Science, 271:788-792.
24. Postel, S.L., G.C. Daily, and P.R. Ehrlich (1996), "Human Appropriation of Renewable Fresh Water," Science, 271:785-788.
25. Parry, M.L., and C. Rosenzweig (1993), "Food Supply and the Risk of Hunger," Lancet, 342:1345-1347.
26. Schwartz, S.E., and M.O. Andreae (1996), "Uncertainty in Climate Change Caused by Aerosols," Science, 272:1121-1122.
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