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Marking a New Understanding of Climate and Health

Authors:
Environmental Health Perspectives
volume 124 | number 4 | April 2016
A 59
Perspectives
|
Editorial
e month of April brings
two observances of signi-
ficance for many readers
of EHP: National Public
Health Week and Earth
Day. The first recognizes
the importance of preven-
tion efforts in maintaining
the health of our nation’s
people; the second, our
reliance on and obligation
to the health of the planet.
is year, April also marks
the expected final release
of a report that brings the
convergence of these two ideas into sharp focus. e Impacts of Climate
Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment
(http://www.globalchange.gov/health-assessment), or Climate and
Health Assessment, marks a leap forward in our understanding of the
public health implications of climate change.
The report, developed by the U.S. Global Change Research
Program as part of its sustained National Climate Assessment process,
is the first major U.S. assessment of the scientific literature on climate
change and human health since 2008. e assessment breaks new
ground by providing quantitative projections of the influence of
climate change on five different environmental public health prob-
lems, including extreme heat, air pollution, food- and water-related
illness and safety, and vectorborne disease. e report also expands
a critical discussion of the mental health implications of climate
change, and greatly broadens consideration of the issues facing espe-
cially vulnerable populations, such as children, the elderly, and the
socioeconomically disadvantaged.
Assembled by more than 100 experts over a nearly two-year
period, the assessment is a scientific analysis of nearly all the avail-
able peer-reviewed literature on the health impacts of climate change
and climate-related exposures, as well as much of the gray litera-
ture, published in the last half-decade. is highly influential scien-
tific assessment is bolstered by a transparent vetting process, which
included vigorous public comment, a National Research Council
review, and clearance by the major federal scientific and public health
agencies. us, it is the best of what we know about how our health is
likely to be impacted by climate change.
But even as the Climate and Health Assessment shows the progress
we’ve made in understanding the current and potential health impacts
of climate change, it also points to large gaps in knowledge that impede
our ability to project—and therefore, to prepare for—future climate
change health impacts. Many of these gaps are due to insufficient
research on the relationship between climate variability and human
diseases. For example, while the report highlights modeling studies of
how disease-causing vectors, such as ticks and mosquitoes, and bacteria
may be affected by future climate change, we still have only a rudi-
mentary understanding of how behavioral and social determinants of
health may interact with these climate-related factors to lead to human
disease. This gap in understanding prevents us from being able to
identify where, when, and
in whom new outbreaks
of climate-affected disease
are most likely to occur in
the United States. It also
impairs our ability to make
decisions that will protect
people’s health in the
coming years.
What we do know
is that climate change is
increasing in significance
as a public health stressor
(Melillo et al. 2014;
USGCRP 2008). It is
possible to design and implement interventions to limit the impacts
and accompanying human suffering caused by climate change, but
only if we make the research investments necessary to improve our
understanding of how climate change worsens health and determine
the most effective interventions. More targeted research programs
like the NIH’s Climate Change and Health: Assessing and Modeling
Population Vulnerability to Climate Change (http://grants.nih.gov/
grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-10-235.html) are needed to help build the
nation’s capacity to conduct these kinds of studies. Because climate
change and its impacts vary in different regions of the country due to
factors such as geography and demographics, regional centers of excel-
lence in climate change and health would greatly enhance our ability
to conduct high-quality interdisciplinary research to inform public
health practice at the local and regional levels. Comparable regional
centers in climate and earth science are currently supported by the
Department of the Interior (https://www.doi.gov/csc) and the National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (http://cpo.noaa.gov/
climateprograms/ climateandsocietalinteractions/risaprogram.aspx).
With the release of the Climate and Health Assessment, the climate
change and public health communities will now have a greatly enhanced
base of integrated knowledge demonstrating how our environment and
our health interact. If acted on in comprehensive and innovative ways,
this enhanced understanding can point the way towards helping both
our communities and our planet become ever more sustainable and
resilient, not just for this month, but for all the Aprils to come.
Linda S. Birnbaum, John M. Balbus, and Kimberly Thigpen Tart
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health,
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Research Triangle Park, North
Carolina, USA
E-mail: thigpenk@niehs.nih.gov
RefeRences
Melillo JM, Richmond TC, Yohe GW, eds. 2014. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The
Third National Climate Assessment,doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2. Washington, DC:U.S. Global Change
Research Program. Available:http://www.globalchange.gov/browse/reports/climate-change-
impacts-united-states-third-national-climate-assessment-0[accessed 25 February 2016].
USGCRP (U.S. Global Change Research Program). 2008. Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on
Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems (SAP 4.6). Washington, DC:U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency. Available:http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/risk/recordisplay.cfm?deid=197244&
CFID=49519793&CFTOKEN=31904828[accessed 25 February 2016].
Marking a New Understanding of Climate
and Health
http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1611410
A Section 508–conformant HTML version of this ar ticle
is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1611410.
An erratum has been published.
Perspectives
|
Editorial
Environmental Health Perspectives
volume 124 | number 6 | June 2016
A 105
Erratum
Erratum: “Marking a New Understanding of Climate and Health”
Linda S. Birnbaum, John M. Balbus, and Kimberly Thigpen Tart
Environ Health Perspect 124(4):A59 (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1611410
In the original article, the URL for the report titled “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific
Assessment” was http://www.globalchange.gov/health-assessment.
In this erratum, the authors provide the URL for the final version of this report, which is available at http://health2016.globalchange.gov.
A Sectio n 508–conformant H TML version of this arti cle
is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/EHP350.
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Article
Full-text available
Environ Health Perspect 124(4):A59 (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1611410 In the original article, the URL for the report titled “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment” was http://www.globalchange.gov/health-assessment. In this erratum, the authors provide the URL for the final version of this report, which is available at http://health2016.globalchange.gov.