WHO director general Margaret Chan yesterday urged public officials and scientists to focus more on informing the public about the impacts of climate change on their physical well being and the outbreak of diseases, both locally and regionally.
"Human health is largely neglected, if not entirely ignored, in debates about climate change," said Chan.
Scientists participating in the web based presentation stressed the need to make climate change a clear and present danger to the well-being of everyone, not just those most severely impacted now by water-borne illnesses in flood ravaged Pakistan or facing drought-induced severe malnutrition and starvation in East Africa.
Scarcity of resources, lower crop yields and migrations already exacerbate health issues and the American Thoracic Society this week issued a warning about the impacts of climate change on breathing.
In Rising Temperatures, Rising Health Problems, representatives of the panel reveal findings that global warming is not only resulting in increased incidences of asthma and other air-borne allergies but also causing cardiovascular problems and an increase in infections due to vector borne diseases.
“We’re now beginning to see some infections and some vector borne diseases in different areas of the world that we’ve never seen before. For example, diseases that have commonly been found within the Mediterranean are now being seen as far north as the Scandinavian countries. We’ve also seen some issues about mold that typically was only found within Mexico and Central America that are now as far north as British Columbia in Canada” UC Davis professor Kent Pinkerton LunAnthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, stressed the importance of localizing the impacts of climate change .
"Most Americans think that climate change is a distant issue," he said. " ... People do not connect the dots between climate change, which is in one part of the brain, and human health, which is in another part of the brain."
Human beings are exposed to climate change through changing weather patterns (for example, more intense and frequent extreme events) and indirectly through changes in water, air, food quality and quantity, ecosystems, agriculture, and economy. At this early stage the effects are small but are projected to progressively increase in all countries and regions. 2007 report, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)Last year, an NRDC studydetermined the health costs from climate change in six cases in the US between 2000 and 2009 exceeded $14 billion.
Christian Teriete, communications director for TckTckTck, stressed the need for "finesse" in informing a public which is not prepared to internalize the connection between a changing climate and health. The strategy, he said, must involve creating messaging which is specific to the particular population, geographically, economically and culturally and also delivered an optimistic, tone with information on tactics and solutions.
... "We're not going to resolve this huge problem internationally if we don't have a huge shared understanding. We must make the argument that we can do this," said McMichael.
Fortunately, strategies for mitigating climate change also tend to help reduce its impact, according to Leiserowitz. "Many of these exact things we are doing to improve public health also tend to improve the climate. Likewise, the more ways we can move away from fossil-fuel-based energy sources, the more that helps our health at the same time," he said.