Global warming will have significant impact on Americans’ quality of life, claims a recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency.
As a highly developed country, the United States can expect fewer cases of illness and death related to climate change than poorer nations, says the report released July 17. Coupled with changing demographics and land use, however, global warming will “affect important dimension” related to human health and welfare in the U.S.
“In the United States, we are observing the evidence of long-term changes in temperature and precipitation consistent with global warming,” the report says. “Changes in average conditions are being realized through rising temperatures, changes in annual and seasonal precipitation, and rising sea levels. Observations also indicate there are changes in extreme conditions, such as an increased frequency of heavy rainfall (with some increase in flooding), more heat waves, fewer very cold days, and an increase in areas affected by drought. There have been large fluctuations in the number of hurricanes from year to year which make it difficult to discern trends. Evidence suggests that the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms has increased over the past few decades.”
With continued global warming in the future, the report predicts, “heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Cold days and cold nights are very likely to become much less frequent over North America. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase.”
Those changes carry health risks.
“It is very likely that heat-related morbidity and mortality will increase over the coming decades,” the study says.
Higher temperatures in urban areas and expected rise in ozone concentrations “can contribute to or exacerbate cardiovascular and pulmonary illness,” it continues.
Hurricanes, floods and wildfires also “have the potential to affect public health through direct and indirect health risks.” Scientists also expect an increase in the spread of food and water-borne disease.
Climate change also will likely worsen disparities that already exist in America’s health care system. “Many of the expected health effects are likely to fall disproportionately on the poor, the elderly, the disabled and the uninsured,” the study says.
The effects of climate change on habitation will vary by location, with more vulnerable areas likely to include coastal areas, river basins and areas associated with water shortages. Increased permafrost melt makes Alaska another problem area.
Changes in precipitation will affect water supplies nationwide, as likely reductions in snowmelt, river flows and groundwater levels will reduce fresh water supplies. Warming “is virtually certain” to increase energy demands for cooling, while reducing demand for heating in buildings.
Areas vulnerable to climate change are growing economically and in population, the report notes. About half of the U.S. population, 160 million people, lives in 673 coastal communities.
Last week former Vice President Al Gore called on the nation’s lawmakers to set a goal of producing 100 percent of America’s electricity by carbon-free, renewable sources, within 10 years. He compared it to President Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon during the 1960s.
The Cornwall Alliance, a group of evangelicals that questions the threat of global warming, called Gore’s plan unrealistic.
The Post Carbon Institute introduced a 10-point plan to achieve Gore’s call. “Al Gore’s ambitious goal provides a national focus and call to action,” said Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the organization dedicated to getting society off of carbon fuel. “Now what’s needed is a clear-sighted plan for achieving it, one that recognizes the complex issues of energy depletion, the vulnerability of the supply chain and the limits of technology. We are taking up Gore’s call and presenting a powerful framework to realize this vision, a vision that would revitalize America and make it genuinely sustainable.”
The plan goes like this: 1. Reduce 2. Share 3. Diversify 4. Distribute 5. Store 6. Reinvest 7. Relocalize 8. Reengineer 9. Reskill 10. Remobilize
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.