By Pedro Hernandez
This article focussing on public health is the first in a series focussing on how climate change is impacting the San Joaquin Valley. For the next issue in April, we will discuss climate changes’ impacts on natural resources like groundwater and the impact on wildlife in the area.
Without a doubt, the recent COVID-19 developments have changed our society and have become the most pressing near-term issue of our current lives. But for many activists, community members, and scientists, climate change continues to be one of the most pressing issues facing our entire planet. Climate change has been a major focus of the 2020 presidential debates, a major focus of local nonprofits organizations, and an issue that has been increasingly discussed in the media.
Often, discussions on climate change have become very polarizing and can trigger significant political or cultural conflict. Regardless of the origin or direct cause of climate change, it continues to stress the environment and society in ways we continue to see with increasing frequency each year. For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has officially designated February 2020 as the second hottest February in recorded history.
Although the term has been circulating, what exactly is climate change? The California Department of Public Healths explains: “Weather can be thought of as the short-term variability of local daily temperature, precipitation (i.e., rain, snow), wind, and events like storms (hurricanes, tornados, etc.) throughout a year. Climate can be thought of as the general pattern on a larger geographic area and time scale, usually in the span of decades.” In other words, “climate” is the long-term trend that is concluded using years of “weather” data. Over the last decades, long-term residents and science can confirm that California and the entire United States Southwest have experienced a severe drought, a prolonged wildfire season, and increasing overall temperatures.
The scientific community is in firm agreement that although climate has changed throughout the history of planet earth, human-related activity such as burning fossil-fuels and other types of pollution are causing the planet to warm at a faster rate than ever before. Greenhouse gases are the root of climate change due to their ability to trap heat in the atmosphere and are a direct product of modern human society.
The impact of climate change in California varies across the state due to diversity in biophysical setting, climate, and jurisdictional characteristics. How specifically will climate change impact Tulare County? Over the last few years, many scientists, government agencies, environmentalists, and public health care officials have begun to project the impacts of climate change.
In 2017, the California Department of Public Health and the University ofCalifornia, Davis through the CalBRACE (California Building Resilience Against Climate Effects) project produced a Climate Change and Health Profile Report for every county in California. The following is a curated selection of potential impacts for Tulare County which is one of the most locally applicable reports ever conducted.
Increased temperatures are perhaps the symptom that many will feel directly and for the most prolonged period of time.
Symptoms of increased heat
- Increased temperatures manifest as heat waves and sustained high heat days that directly harm human health through heat-related illnesses (mild heat stress to fatal heat stroke) and the exacerbation of pre-existing conditions in the medically fragile, chronically ill, and vulnerable.
- Increased heat also intensifies the photochemical reactions that produce smog and ground level ozone and fine particulates (PM2.5), which contribute to and exacerbate respiratory disease in children and adults.
- Increased heat and carbon dioxide enhance the growth of plants that produce pollen, which are associated with allergies.
- Increased temperatures add to the heat load of buildings in urban areas and exacerbate existing urban heat islands adding to the risk of high overall temperatures.
- Increased temperatures also lead to drought conditions with in turn leaves many residents without a dependable source of drinking water and also increases the likelihood of wildfires and respiratory illness including asthma
Aside from direct heat impacts on humans, the changing climate also increases potential for the spread of Vector Borne Illnesses. Potential impacts include:
- Climatic changes alter the range, biogeography, and growth of microbes and the vectors of food, water, and vector-borne illnesses.
- This includes the changes in aquatic environments that could increase harmful algal blooms and lead to increases in food-borne and waterborne illnesses.18
Socioeconomic disruptions include the impacts to large structures like the economy or the overall stability and security of society. The projected impacts include:
- Health care facilities, water treatment plants, and roads for emergency responders and transportation for health care personnel can be damaged in climate-related extreme weather events.
- Increased burden of disease and injury will test the surge capacity of health care facilities. Economic disruption can lead to income loss, income insecurity, food insecurity, housing insecurity, and mental health problems, which in turn may increase substance abuse, suicide and other health problems.
- Energy production and distribution is also threatened by heat and wildfires through loss of efficiency, generating capacity, and fires disrupting transmission lines.
Although we are seeing many of these impacts gradually appear in the San Joaquin Valley, the team at the Ivanhoe Sol is dedicated to advocating for real solutions to address climate change from polluting industries and elected officials that represent our community and who have the ability to vote for important policy and programs that will support Ivanhoe’s resiliency through these challenges.