By ABBY HOLMES
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the Climate and Health Meeting in Atlanta, Ga., hosted by former Vice President Al Gore, founder and chairman of the Climate Reality Project and other organizations. The purpose of the meeting was to sound the horns about the impacts of climate change on human health and to kickoff what the American Public Health Association has officially claimed as “the Year of Climate Change and Health.” Scientists, public health officials, and health care providers, among others, came together for this one-day summit.
Air and water pollution, soil degradation, more frequent natural disasters, increased spread of infectious diseases, and rising heat conditions are all indicators that the health of our planet is declining and in turn, the health of humanity. While the statistics presented at the meeting are too many to list here, I’ll note a few areas that have directly impacted our region in just the last year: heat-rise, flooding, and infectious diseases. One major climate-related cause of death is heat stress, which increases by 4 percent during heat waves. Last year was the third hottest year in a row in recording history. We saw an unprecedented number of wildfires in WNC just a few months ago, worsened by drought. Natural disasters can cause other health issues such as asthma, respiratory illnesses, and the spread of disease.
It is more important now than ever that we not only acknowledge our personal choices that contribute to climate change, but also understand how we can protect our own health and the health of rising generations. The following are tips on how to limit the impacts of climate change and to contribute to a healthier population: stay informed; make an emergency plan and an emergency kit; protect your health in risky situations (i.e. wear a mask when air quality is poor, wear bug spray, stay hydrated, be prepared when traveling, etc.); and do your part to minimize your environmental footprint (i.e. recycle, buy local foods when possible, conserve water use, etc.).
To watch the entire Climate and Health Meeting, visit https://www.climaterealityproject.org/health.
Holmes is the EBCI Public Health and Human Services preparedness coordinator.