Health impacts increase the risk of climate change

Nebraska’s average temperature is on par with the Dust Bowl decade of the 1930s and is expected to rise 1.6 degrees over the last century over the next 30 years.

That change has led not only to warmer weather, but also to wetter weather, floods, droughts and negative impacts on public health, which will continue as average temperatures rise.

For example, the virus

Why does Nebraska have that rating? Researchers say the state’s extreme weather variability — from rainy seasons to hot, dry stretches — creates reservoirs where West Nile-carrying mosquitoes breed.

At the same time, health officials are finding more tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease, as tick populations expand and new tick species enter the state.

And, in the cold, naturally occurring amoeba, which is harmless at low water temperatures, turns infectious when water temperatures reach the mid-80s. This happened last year on the Elkhorn River, where an 8-year-old boy died after contracting the disease.

River temperatures are said to have been one of the contributing factors to last summer’s warm weather, Nebraska’s hottest and driest year on record in a decade (2012) and last year’s drought. His fourth dry.

National researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center have found a link between drought and suicide that may be associated with increased deaths in the state.

Those effects of drought are more hidden than parched fields and reduced agricultural production. So is the mental health struggle of rural Nebraskans whose livelihoods depend on the weather.

All of that and more, like climate change bringing invasive new plants to Nebraska, is evidence that supports the World Health Organization’s view that climate change is the greatest health threat facing humanity — and climate change and its impacts are no small feat. A theoretical problem that appears in half a century.

“This is not a future issue,” Scott Holmes, manager of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department’s local public health division, said in a news release Sunday. “This is today’s issue.”

Holmes and his colleagues at the health department and city government are looking for new ways to monitor the health effects of climate change and are addressing the issue under the city’s Climate Action Plan.

That effort puts Lincoln first in the state. The process of developing the Omaha Climate Action Plan is just getting started. Because many Nebraskans oppose efforts to address climate change and the climate “cycle” is moving toward “normal,” the state does not have a plan, nor has it begun efforts to develop one.

That’s unfortunate. Beyond that, it’s important to work in Lincoln to allow the state to understand what’s happening with climate change and mitigate its effects.

That work should include additional monitoring for diseases, mosquitoes, toxic algae in lakes and ponds. Educate health care providers and occupationally at-risk populations and strengthen preparedness among public health systems and health facilities.

The degree to which we can reverse climate change remains to be seen, but we can better arm ourselves to ensure our safety.

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