Published July 18, 2008
WASHINGTON – Global warming will affect the health and welfare of every American, but the poor, elderly, and children will suffer the most, according to a new White House science report released Thursday.
The 284-page report, mostly written by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said every region of the country will be hit by worse health from heat waves and drought. It said all but a handful of states would have worse air quality and flooding. It predicts an increase in diseases spread by tainted food, bad water and bugs.
The report "concludes that climate change poses real risk to human health and human system that supports our way of life in the United States," EPA's climate change research program director Joel Scheraga said at a news conference.
Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels. At current emission levels, global temperatures are likely to rise by about 2 degrees by midcentury and about 7.5 degrees by the end of the century, according to an international panel of scientists.
Most of the ill effects of global warming have been mentioned in past federal and international reports, but this report details how climate change will "accentuate the disparities already evident in the American health care system."
The most vulnerable Americans — the poor, elderly, sick, very young, and immigrants — will suffer more, said Kristie Ebi, the lead author of the health sections of the report and a private public health consultant. That's at least 10 percent of the country's population, probably more, she said.
It will be tougher for these people to get adequate health care for climate-related illnesses, cool down in heat waves, escape extreme events such as Hurricane Katrina, and even get enough food, the report said.
"Even in the United States, the greatest health burdens related to climate change are likely to fall on those with the lowest socio-economic status," the report said. And it notes that global warming poses "significant risks for the elderly who often have frail health and limited mobility."
While every region of America is vulnerable to global warming's health and welfare effects, more people are moving into coastal regions, which are most vulnerable to climate change because of drought and hurricanes, the report said.
Scheraga said the report wasn't intended to make recommendations for curbing global warming. Just last week, the EPA said it would not use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, even though the U.S. Supreme Court said it could. The federal government does not regulate greenhouse gases.
This is one of 21 reports produced by the federal government's climate change science program, which reports to the White House science office and taps the expertise of various government agencies.