Science AMA Series: I’m Kim Knowlton, at the Natural Resources Defense Council. My work focuses on the public-health impacts of climate change and identifying strategies to prepare for—and prevent—these impacts, especially in vulnerable communities, AMA!

Abstract

At a time when hundreds of federal rules are being rolled-back to weaken or eliminate environmental safeguards, I feel we’re at a critical moment in our effort to promote and maintain strategies that help communities prepare for and prevent the impacts of climate change.

In my role as a Senior Scientist and Deputy Director at NRDC, I work on research that helps connect the dots between climate change and health, including conditions such as allergies and asthma or infectious diseases like Lyme and Zika. Which for many could result in days away from work, from school, or a trip to the emergency room.

Through my work, I’ve joined fellow scientists, public health experts, city officials and others to strengthen health preparedness in their climate adaptation plans in various communities. Put simply, this work is designed to help people stay healthy when climate change-fueled extremes make it harder to breathe, or to enjoy time outdoors.

As part of the AMA Series, I want to chat with you about federal rules and regulations that have an impact our health, answer questions around how climate change and health are linked, and discuss what all of us can do to be more prepared.

I'll be back at 11 am to answer your questions, Join me in this discussion!

What are your thoughts on the existing public health policy framework and its ability to adapt as threat vectors migrate along with changing climates?

Are more northern regions ready or planning for new issues that their more southern neighbors currently face e.g. Zika?

adenovato

This is a great question. Currently, only about one-third of US states have public health preparedness included in their state climate action plans (more here: http://on.nrdc.org/2jnJ7CA). Those plans can be adapted as new climate threats appear, or as current threats change. It’s important that more states get on board with their own climate-health preparedness planning! And yes, the top-priority climate-health effects vary geographically – for some regions it’s Zika and other infectious illnesses, for others it’s extreme heat. There’s a whole range of impacts to deal with.


What kinds of drug development do you think we should prioritize now to prepare for the future health effects of climate change?

recentfish

There’s lots of opportunities here. As more clinicians – doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals – continue to get involved in diagnosing and treating climate-health impacts (especially through organizations like this: http://on.nrdc.org/2mmWwfh), they’ll be able to get involved in figuring out how to proceed here. One opportunity that comes to mind is the continuing development of dengue fever vaccines (more info here: http://on.nrdc.org/2jr29IE), since the geographic range of the mosquitoes that can carry this painful illness is spreading.


Hi, Kim!

In my experience, the human health impacts of climate change remain a relatively 'unknown' area of concern for most people (at least compared to the more 'obvious' impacts such as discrete examples of extreme weather, despite this all being linked!).

Have you found any particularly effective ways to 'raise the profile' of human health and climate with the public at large?

TheMercian

Wow, this is a huge concern for me, as someone who tries to connect the dots between climate change and people’s health (http://on.nrdc.org/2mm0btT). I think that the cascade of extreme weather events in recent years – heat waves, wildfires, flooding, drought – has opened people’s minds to consider the climate change links to those health-harming events. For your reference, here's our map on how air quality (http://on.nrdc.org/2zHzv9S) and extreme heat affect our health (http://on.nrdc.org/2jnJ7CA).

When you’ve heard that climate change is fueling both those more frequent extreme heat and worsening air quality, and you've seen that data that's shown in our maps, it’s hard not to feel those climate-health connections affecting your own health, on a blazing hot summer day, with terrible smog and bad air quality.


Thanks for coming to talk with us today! I understand that New York City is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. Are there steps that New York and cities like it should be taking now to prevent flooding?

asbruckman

There are definitely steps that cities can be taking to become better prepared for flooding (my colleague Joel has an incredibly comprehensive response right here: http://on.nrdc.org/2ibUNVA). A few years ago, NRDC looked at the effects of Superstorm Sandy (report: http://on.nrdc.org/2iduaQv) after it hit New York City, and found that nearly 290,000 people lived in areas that were flooded but weren’t located in the 100-year floodplains that were mapped at that time. It's key that we fix our broken flood insurance program, using the most up-to-date local climate impacts science so that cities can better plan for the future (http://on.nrdc.org/2AHTy8u).

It’s critical that people and community groups know about evacuation planning, and really important that hospitals, schools, and critical infrastructure like bridges, roadways and transportation be built with climate change’s effects in mind. And because I’m a health scientist, I have to say there are a lot of possible health effects of flooding that we can become better prepared for: avoiding injuries and drowning, and also dealing with mold and moisture damage, waterborne illnesses from floodwaters, and the mental health impacts of being displaced from homes and businesses (http://on.nrdc.org/2iTt2kq).


First, thanks for the important work that you and your team do! How does the absence of US participation in the Paris Agreement affect the work you do? If the federal government is not interested in climate change mitigation, how should states and cities respond and how can NRDC help in this regard?

edwinksl

I think there’s tons of reasons to be positive and hopeful about what’s happening now at COP-23 (http://on.nrdc.org/2zyOCVN), especially with the commitments from states, cities and groups like Bloomberg who are committed to meeting the conditions of the Paris agreement.

Cities, counties and states have a huge opportunity to be models for promoting energy efficiency, clean energy use, reducing heat-trapping carbon pollution, and enjoying really substantial health benefits right now from cleaner air and more walkable, livable cities.

NRDC is working on several fronts to help advance climate change mitigation – to help the trend toward reducing emissions of heat-trapping carbon pollution. We strongly support the Clean Power Plan (http://on.nrdc.org/2zSL8Og), which is an absolutely critical, historic opportunity for us to limit the very worst effects of climate change.

NRDC’s working with partners in dozens of cities to advance energy efficiency [EEFA], clean renewable power sources, and to help improve communities’ preparedness for climate impacts. And NRDC continues to develop online maps (here http://on.nrdc.org/2zHzv9S and here http://on.nrdc.org/2jnJ7CA) that make global climate change a local issue by showing local climate-health effects, tell us what’s happening to prepare, and what each of us can do to build healthier, more climate-secure communities.

As an individual, you can help too! Add your voice to the fight and say you are still committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement, regardless of the Trump administration's actions: http://on.nrdc.org/2mls19F


How concerned are you with the direction the federal government is moving now in sidelining expert input on policy?

scienceaccount103040

I couldn’t be more concerned about the way our federal government is trying to “purge then pack” some key federal advisory groups – purging internationally recognized, prestigious scientists and then packing groups like the Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (http://on.nrdc.org/2huvLUC) with new members who come directly from the chemical or fossil fuel industries. That’s a big problem for maintaining scientific objectivity, integrity independence and competence on those groups!


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