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Recent climate report focuses on effects on human health

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | OCTOBER 14, 2014 5:00 AM

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State scientists, including University of Iowa professors, are hoping to draw attention to the human aspect of a complex global issue through highlighting the connection between health and the potential of climate change.

The fourth-annual Iowa Climate Statement was released Oct. 10 and was signed by 180 science faculty members at 38 Iowa colleges and universities. For the first time, the report details officials’ concerns related to what the perceived effects of climate change could have on human health.

According to the report, there are heavier rains in the spring, increased flooding, and a longer growing season in the state of Iowa. The report also said Iowans health could be affected by the changes.

Previous climate statement reports focused on agricultural and environmental effects instead of health concerns.

“Most of the time when we talk about the climate change, for most people, it’s either saving trees or saving polar bear or saving ice caps,” said Yogesh Shah, a Des Moines University associate dean of global health who contributed to the report. “Human health is significantly important and mislinked between climate and health.”

Officials said the issues identified in the statement were thoroughly researched and findings were drawn from numerous studies and reports.

Peter Thorne, a UI professor of occupational and environmental health who also contributed, said the statement focused on five discerned issues with climate change and human health.

These issues included more severe precipitation and heat, leading to physical and mental illness, as well as worsening respiratory illnesses as allergenic plants move northward and mold spreads more easily.

The statement also referenced higher risk for lung and heart disease because of increased air pollutants and a rise in infectious disease, such as the West Nile virus as conditions become more favorable for mosquitoes.

The fifth aspect of the report is the degradation of water quality as water temperatures rise and flooding increases, washing more soil nutrients into waterways, which causes algal blooms, leading to health concerns.

David Courard-Hauri, Drake University associate professor of environmental science and policy, said perceived climate change is not necessarily the only source of the issues laid out, but it is a significant one.

“The effects may have numerous causes, so you may not be able to tie one event to one cause,” he said. “We are seeing evidence of a lot of the things we’re talking about, and most of those have numerous causes, but one of the important causes is definitely climate change.”

Johnson County farmer Russell Meade said he is reluctant to draw a connection between increased flooding and possible climate change.

“If you compare on a 10-year schedule, then these last few years have been wetter,” Meade said. “If you compare on a 20-, 30-, 40- year schedule and to when my dad was younger in the 1940s and 1950s, they talk about some of those big floods that were coming through those years and flooding that was happening every year. In the big picture, it’s awful hard to say we’re having significantly more.”

Officials also expressed optimism in positive change related to perceived climate change generally as well as in relation to health issues.

Shah, a physician, said more people are drawing a connection to human health, and Courard-Hauri said renewable forms of energy are becoming more widespread domestically and globally, as well as more inexpensive to implement.

“There’s a point at which we don’t have to convince the Chinese to sign a treaty with us,” Courard-Hauri said.


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