The effect of the climate crisis around the world is evident in the many changes we have been witnessing, from breaking temperature records month after month to the impact that a warmer climate has had on natural disasters.
The health impact of the climate crisis, however, is not well defined, so a team of researchers decided to estimate the health-related costs of the 10 climate-sensitive events that happened in the US in 2012. As reported in GeoHealth, the team estimate that such events were the cause of 917 deaths, 20,568 hospitalizations, and 17,857 emergency department visits. This was equivalent to around $10 billion in 2018.
The 10 events included Hurricane Sandy, wildfires in Washington and Colorado, ozone air pollution in Nevada, extreme heat in Winsconsin, extreme weather in Ohio, allergenic oak pollen in North Carolina, harmful algae blooms along the coast of Florida, and the spread of the West-Nile virus through mosquitos in Texas.
"Climate change represents a major public health emergency. But its destructive and expensive toll on Americans' health has largely been absent from the climate policy debate," lead author Dr Vijay Limaye, a scientist in NRDC's Science Center, said in a statement. "Our research shows that health-related costs added at least another 26 percent to the national price tag for 2012 severe weather-related damages.
"This continuing untold human suffering and staggering cost is another reason we must take assertive action to curb climate change now. Cutting greenhouse gas pollution and expanding clean energy, while also investing in preparedness and climate adaptation, is the prescription for a safer, healthier future."
The health costs of the climate crisis are not included in the annual extreme weather costs. It is important to remember that this study was done with data from 2012. The global situation has since changed and not for the better. Five of the hottest years on record globally all happened in the last five years. As the crisis deepens, the costs will get higher and higher.
"Our research signals that all told, there could be tens to hundreds of billions of dollars in health costs already from recent climate-related exposures nationwide," said study co-author Dr Kim Knowlton, senior scientist at NRDC. "It's clear that failing to address climate change, and soon, will cost us a fortune, including irreversible damage to our health."
The report estimates that more than two-thirds of the illness costs from these events were paid by Medicare and Medicaid, once again revealing that vulnerable seniors and people from poorer backgrounds will be the ones to suffer the most from the climate crisis.