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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Professor Co-authors Study on Hidden Health Costs from Climate Change

Climate change is taking a huge toll on Americans’ health, so much so that it could constitute a public health crisis, according to a new study issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The study, published in the journal GeoHealth, finds that Americans endured more than $10 billion in health costs from 10 climate-sensitive events in 2012. That toll likely has continued, or risen, with the increasing impacts from climate change.

“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 co-author Dr. Kim Knowlton, senior scientist at NRDC, and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health professor of environmental health sciences. “It’s clear that failing to address climate change, and soon, will cost us a fortune, including irreversible damage to our health.”

The study analyzed health surveillance data across 10 climate-sensitive events in 2012 including costs from wildfires in Colorado and Washington; infectious disease outbreaks of tick-borne Lyme disease in Michigan and mosquito-borne West Nile Virus in Texas; extreme weather in Ohio; and Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York. These events resulted in at least $10 billion in health-related costs from about 900 deaths, 21,000 hospitalizations, 18,000 emergency room visits, and 37,000 outpatient encounters

“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,” said first author Dr. Vijay Limaye, a scientist in NRDC’s Science Center.  “Our research shows that health-related costs added at least another 26 percent to the price tag for 2012 severe weather-related damages.”

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