Photo: Climate Change Linked to Global Respiratory Health Issues

Photo of pollen: Climate change can cause longer lasting pollen seasons.
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Climate change can cause longer lasting pollen seasons.
Photo of an Antarctia picnic.
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Lunch is no picnic in Antarctica: windblown snow pelts the men’s faces, coating beards and eyelashes with ice crystals and denying them even the modest comfort of rest. 1989-1990 International Trans-Antarctica Expedition, © Will Stegerr
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A new book co-edited by Dr. Kent Pinkerton at UC Davis represents the first comprehensive attempt to examine the effects of climate change on respiratory health at an international level.

In the book published by Springer under the Respiratory Medicine series, “Global Climate Change and Public Health,” forty-three experts give their unique perspective on the current state of knowledge and recommend actions to reduce national and global threats to public health. It comes on the heels of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report suggesting global warming is most certainly occurring and likely to accelerate.

In 2010, the American Thoracic Society hosted a climate change workshop in New Orleans led by Dr. Pinkerton, the chair of the Society’s Environmental Health Policy Committee. “We saw climate change as a big issue, but we didn’t really feel as though the health community of pulmonary physicians had the means by which to address or understand it,” said Dr. Pinkerton, director of the UC Davis Center for Health and the Environment and professor in the School of Medicine.

Organizers sought a global outlook, inviting experts from Europe, the United States, Canada, Africa, India, Japan, Korea, Turkey, and the Caribbean. “The workshop in 2010 resulted in a Statement by the American Thoracic Society that contained twenty-seven key recommendations to address research gaps in the future,” noted Dr. Pinkerton. The groundbreaking book developed out of the research, findings, and discussions from the workshop and fills a major gap in the literature on respiratory health and climate change.

“Our hope is to educate pulmonary physicians, medical staff, and primary care givers, so they can, in turn, better help their patients understand what they should do based on issues having to do with climate,” said Dr. Pinkerton. “The issues could be heat stress, allergies from changes to the pollen season, or vector borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever that are lasting longer and in different patterns than before.”

Compelling testimony of climate change underway, such as the decline of arctic snow and ice, comes from contributing authors Will Steger and Nicole Rom. Steger, famous for his arctic treks, took 31 days to ski every step of the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica, which has since collapsed. Chronicling the “new normal” in the Arctic – more open water and thinner ice – they examine its effect on Inuit communities dependent on the melting landscape for centuries.

California in Action

Pinkerton notes how California has been at the forefront internationally on issues of air quality and climate change. “We wanted an emphasis on the California perspective,” he said. COEH Director John Balmes contributed a chapter on California’s Cap and Trade Program, one of the state’s strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020 in keeping with the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 – the landmark regulation that sets enforceable GHG limits on industry and government agencies effective January 1, 2013.

Dr. Balmes, who helps implement the legislation as the physician member of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), describes Cap and Trade as one step among many that are required to significantly mitigate climate change, “a global problem requiring global solutions.” His chapter cites the historic link of California’s Cap and Trade program with the Canadian province of Quebec’s program effective January 1, 2014, as a poignant example of CARB’s international efforts to reduce GHG emissions.

Federal Health Policy and Climate Change

Maya Levine and John Balbus from the National Institutes of Health Sciences offer a brief history of federal programs in a chapter on climate change and health research. Elsewhere, five authors from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide an insider’s look at climate change adaption and public policy at the CDC, including how it is readying state and local health departments for the challenges ahead.

Photo: Cover image for the book "Global Climate Change and Public Health."

In addition, Erika Sasser and C. Andrew Miller from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency summarize the Agency’s findings on the health risks associated with GHG emissions and outline their regulatory efforts to limit their impact on public health and the environment to protect current and future generations.

“The number of pathways through which climate change can affect the health of populations makes this environmental hazard one of the most perilous and intricate challenges we face this century,” noted contributing author Jonathon Patz from the University of Wisconsin. The book by Pinkerton and colleagues underscores the most urgent issues nationally and internationally and offers a valuable tool for health professionals at the forefront of assisting communities at risk.

Preview the book published by Humana Press, Global Climate Change and Public Health.

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