New report: Climate damage to health is widespread and costly
The climate crisis is putting our health at risk and forcing more people to pay for expensive medical care.
A new report that NRDC released with partner groups today highlights the huge, often overlooked and inequitable health and economic costs of climate change and air pollution resulting from the burning of fossil fuels in the United States. This report, produced by the Climate and Health Medical Society Consortium, Wisconsin health professionals for climate actionand NRDC focuses on often overlooked but profound public health issues and costs associated with the climate crisis.
Our report, “The Costs of Inaction: The Economic Burden of Fossil Fuels and Climate Change on Health in the United States,” synthesizing recent scientific research articles, is among the first to take stock of the financial consequences of climate change. climate change on public health. extreme weather conditions, dangerous heat waves, peaks in air pollution, increased diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes, and others health risks aggravated by climate change.
The whole country is exposed to costly climate and health risks
The climate crisis is a dangerous and costly problem, and it threatens more than just property values and infrastructure. This fuels significant and sometimes irreversible damage to human health, in the form of illness, injury, medical bills and premature death. Due to the limited integration of environmental and public health data, estimating the national economic health burden from climate change hazards is a long and complicated challenge. As a result, current estimates of the health costs of climate change are conservative. Another result of the current limitations of public health data collection, the U.S. government estimates of annual damage from the most expensive climate and weather disasters completely omit health-related costs and instead focus on damage to physical structures and loss of property, crops and infrastructure (in part because these things involve relatively more defined repair and insurance costs).
Despite this data gap, the peer-reviewed literature synthesized in this report indicates that the United States faces well over $ 820 billion in physical and mental health damage from fossil fuel combustion and burning. climate change. events every year, comprising:
- Dangerous air pollution: Burning fossil fuels releases microscopic pollution of soot particles into the air. Breathing this air pollution triggers cardiovascular disease and respiratory ailments and was estimated at around 107,000 premature deaths per year in a recent study. Total annual health care cost for this national burden (2020 dollars): $ 820 billion.
- Soaring temperatures: Climate change is causing more frequent and intense heat waves, triggering a host of problems, including heat stress, heat stroke and a range of cardiovascular diseases. Exposures to extreme heat can be fatal and trigger frequent hospital and emergency room visits. Total annual health care cost for the recent national burden: $ 263 million.
- Outbreaks of infectious diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes: The warmer temperatures caused by the climate increase the range of ticks and mosquitoes, which can carry Lyme disease and West Nile virus, leading to premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of new cases per year and dozens. thousands of visits to medical clinics and hospitals. Total annual health care cost for the recent national burden: $ 860 million to $ 2.7 billion.
- Destructive coastal storms and inland flooding: Climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme rainfall events and supercharged coastal storms. These disasters directly affect physical and mental health and also jeopardize the treatment of some chronic diseases, including dialysis care for kidney problems. The health-related economic toll of Hurricane Sandy (2012) in New York and New Jersey was $ 3.3 billion.
- Smoke from forest fires: A multitude of factors, including those linked to climate change (rising temperatures, drought and insect epidemics) increase the frequency and intensity of large forest fires. It is estimated that exposure to smoke from wildfires triggered 6,200 respiratory hospital visits and 1,700 deaths in 2009. Total annual health costs for the recent national burden: $ 16 billion.
“The science is clear: The dangerous effects of climate change – and their profound costs to our health and our wallets – will worsen each year we fail to reduce the pollution that is rapidly destabilizing our planet.
– Dr Vijay Limaye, co-author of the report
Climate solutions benefit health
People across the country are currently facing huge health care costs due to air pollution caused by fossil fuels and climate-related events. In the face of these growing health and economic burdens, it is important to recognize that smart climate actions to reduce fossil fuel emissions and prepare communities for the health harms associated with climate change can reduce suffering and turn health costs into major financial savings. Our report presents specific ways for policymakers to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and strengthen climate smart preparedness efforts, including:
- Switching from dirty fuels to healthier energy sources: A fair and just transition away from the use of fossil fuels in energy, transportation and power systems (while increasing reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal power) will reduce harmful and costly carbon emissions.
- Strengthen investments in adaptation to climate change: Building resilience to climate change will reduce health damage and unreimbursed financial losses resulting from both incremental changes and extreme events.
- Decarbonize the health sector: Healthcare in the United States generates a large and growing amount of heat-trapping climate pollution, but the healthcare sector’s large climate footprint can be reduced without compromising quality.
Climate action will reduce skyrocketing healthcare costs
The cost of fossil fuel air pollution and climate change on our health – now conservatively estimated at over $ 820 billion a year – is expected to rise in the years to come, absent a strong reaction from society. Given these dire predictions, we are faced with a choice: to continue to suffer climate damage and pay skyrocketing health care bills, or to take bold steps to reduce climate pollution and invest wisely in cost-effective solutions that will prevent millions of people in our country (especially the most vulnerable). ) suffer from injury, illness and premature death.
Specifically, federal leaders should implement climate policies that reduce our nation’s heavy dependence on fossil fuels, support the rapid adoption of clean energy, and address long-standing inequalities in fuel economy. exposure to air pollution generated by fossil fuels and other climate risks. At the same time, we as leaders must dramatically increase investments in community preparedness. This could help enable wider access to resources (such as public cooling centers, community green spaces, infectious disease outbreak notification systems, and infrastructure capable of withstanding stronger storms and floods) that can help people protect themselves and their loved ones in the country. in the face of growing climate threats to health.
Climate change is putting our weather dice against us, including increasing the risk of heavy rainfall. That’s why intense storms that once looked like bad luck are now more likely. https://t.co/ZENpcEJAZp
– Prof. Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) May 20, 2021
Reduce harm and promote health equity
The climate crisis is extremely costly, in terms of damage to physical and mental health and economic hardship imposed by expensive medical treatment following disasters. These costs fall disproportionately on already overwhelmed communities. With our growing knowledge of the dangerous and costly cost of air pollution and climate damage from fossil fuels, we can demand climate action that will reduce costly suffering and pay dividends in terms of improved health and welfare. well-being – now and for years to come. .