Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Drought Called Threat to Public Health

SACRAMENTO (CN) - California's drought and warming climate could have disastrous effects on public health and infectious diseases, without drought-adaptation planning, state officials said Wednesday.

Rising food costs and diabetes rates, increased respiratory disease and loss of drinking water in rural communities are being exacerbated by California's drought, and a statewide social media campaign is needed, said Linda Rudolph, co-director of the Climate Change and Public Health Project.

In this year's first meeting of the California Senate Committee on Environmental Quality, testimonies from state resource agencies carried a common theme on how California must adapt to a changing climate: public awareness of the impact on health issues.

"There's a need to build awareness that climate change is not just about polar bears, but it's about us and our kids and our grandchildren," Rudolph said. "Americans are generally unaware of the potential health consequences of global warming, with only about one in four able to name one health problem related to climate change."

One alarming effect of extreme weather events is the inability of impoverished communities to react, including people with illness who struggle when their health care is disrupted during storms.

"Climate change disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income communities, and thus serves to exacerbate already unacceptable health inequities," Rudolph said. "Climate change is the greatest threat to public health in the 21st century."

California's historic drought has sparked debate on water issues, including its impact on farming, salmon and other fish and reservoir storage, but it's time to get people planning for the impacts of the state's changing climate, the environmental committee said.

"People don't think of climate change as a health issue," said Diana Dooley, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency. "There are 12 California agencies related to climate change adaptation."

The environmental committee agreed that there is no dispute that climate change is real and California is vulnerable to its affects, state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills said.

"In California, we have yet to have any debate over whether climate change exists," Pavley said. "Unlike in the U.S. Senate, we can actually talk about it."

Jon Laird, secretary of the California Natural Resources testified, about the impact a Japanese tsunami had on the California Coast in 20011. Water levels could rise from 1 to 5 feet by 2050, Laird said citing a scientific study. If a similar tsunami happened with higher ocean levels, the results would be catastrophic for the California Coast.

He said that as California researches and plans how to mitigate climate change and the impact of drought, improving water infrastructure projects must account for rising sea levels.

"If you are making improvements that are for 50, 60, 70 years, you have to be thinking of this and if you're not, you're going to be redoing fundamental infrastructure in California," Laird said.

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