U.S. Climate Study: Wildfires to Increase Risk of Respiratory Harm

Wildfires are likely to become even more severe, frequent, and widespread due to climate change, leading to an expected increase in respiratory illness from smoke inhalation, increased property damage, and significant disruption to communities throughout the West and South, warns a new government report.

The report, prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in conjunction with the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), details the impacts of climate change on public health and welfare. It concludes that nearly every region of the United States is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which will likely include degraded air quality, more frequent, and more intense extreme weather events, and greater transmission of diseases. It further states that climate change will likely cause harm to ecosystems across the country, posing threats to humans and animals alike.

"These ecosystems provide vital habitat for threatened and endangered species and are therefore at the crux of WWF's conservation mission," said Richard Moss, Ph.D., vice president for climate change at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). "But they are also vitally important to human welfare in that they provide essential services ranging from clean water and building materials, to food and recreational opportunities.

"To protect both nature and humanity, it is essential that policies be implemented – at the national and international levels – to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. And, recognizing the disruptive consequences of climate change, we must also move forward on the development and implementation of preparedness measures."

Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems

states that nearly every region of the country will be affected by climate change, which is likely to exacerbate challenges already being faced by state and local governments. "The challenges presented by population growth, an aging population, migration patterns, and urban and coastal development will be affected by changes in temperature, precipitation, and extreme climate-related events," the report says.

In response, the report outlines a variety of measures to prepare for the expected impacts of climate change and urges that some be implemented without delay: "[T]he strength and consistency of projections for climatic changes for some exposures of concern to human health suggest that implementation of adaptation actions should commence now."

The full report is available online at http://www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap4-6/default.php.

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