The Tri-Valley Citizens Climate Lobby meeting of February 19 featured Natasha DeJarnett, PhD, MPH with the National Environmental Health Organization discussing on video how climate change and environmental exposures affect physical and mental health.

“Bringing health into the climate conversation is one of the most important things we can do. Climate change is the greatest threat to public health that we are facing,” Dejarnett declared.

“Climate change is not only affecting our health, it is threatening our lives.” The rise of CO2 in the atmosphere causes an increase of heat and pollutants in the air breathed. Studies have shown higher mortality rates in environments that experience higher pollution.” Statistics show that in 2018, seven million people died because of exposure to air pollution.

With an upturn in CO2 and heat at the ground level, instability of the atmosphere develops. This raises the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events that include flooding and droughts. Flooding can cause untreated sewage to be released directly into the water supply, resulting in gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses. A study found that over one half of the reported GI problems were preceded by heavy rainfalls.

In addition to air pollution, longer warm seasons trigger problems for people with allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues. Climate change increases flooding that leaves mold, also a negative for those with allergy and breathing problems. The World Health Organization reports that 88 percent of the burden of climate change falls on children. The elderly also experience increased health problems because of changes in atmospheric temperature.

Longer, hotter warm seasons expand the range of vectors, such as insects, tics and rodents. This has surged the cases of West Nile virus and Lyme disease. Twenty years ago, Maine reported about one dozen cases of Lyme disease. In 2018, that number rose to 1800 cases.

Weather events can affect mental health by causing stress and anxiety, even PTSD. A study noted that in the mid-1980s after a prolonged drought, the suicide of farmers doubled. Extreme heat and more warm seasons can affect some psychotropic drugs, making them inactive.

Co-group leader Ann Brown remarked, “The fifth element after earth, air, fire and water is ‘humans’.”