finding 23.4 : key-message-23-4

Health threats, including heat illness and diseases transmitted through food, water, and insects, will increase as temperature rises (very likely, high confidence). Weather conditions supporting these health threats are projected to be of longer duration or occur at times of the year when these threats are not normally experienced (likely, medium confidence). Extreme weather events with resultant physical injury and population displacement are also a threat (likely, high confidence). These threats are likely to increase in frequency and distribution and are likely to create significant economic burdens (likely, high confidence). Vulnerability and adaptation assessments, comprehensive response plans, seasonal health forecasts, and early warning systems can be useful adaptation strategies.



This finding is from chapter 23 of Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.

Process for developing key messages:

The initial Southern Great Plains author team was selected such that expertise from each of the states’ officially recognized climate offices in the region (Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas) were included. The offices of the state climatologist in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are each members of the American Association of State Climatologists, which is the recognized professional scientific organization for climate expertise at the state level.

One representative from each of several regional hubs of national and regional climate expertise was included on the author team. These regional hubs include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southern Plains Climate Hub (El Reno, Oklahoma), the U.S. Department of the Interior’s South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center (Norman, Oklahoma), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (Norman, Oklahoma).

After assessing the areas of expertise of the six authors selected from the state and regional centers, a gap analysis was conducted to prioritize areas of expertise that were missing. Due to the importance of the sovereign tribal nations to the Southern Great Plains, an accomplished scholar with expertise in Indigenous knowledge on the environment and climate change was selected from the premier tribal university in the United States, Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. An individual from the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin was selected to bring expertise on the complex intersection of coupled atmosphere–land–ocean systems, climate, and humans (population and urbanization). Expertise in the electric utility industry was gained through the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives by an individual with a long history of working with rural and urban populations and with researchers and forecasters in weather and climate.

The author group decided to allow Southern Great Plains stakeholders to drive additional priorities. On March 2, 2017, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) Southern Great Plains chapter team held a Regional Engagement Workshop at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, with a satellite location in Austin, Texas, that allowed a number of stakeholders to participate virtually. The objective of the workshop was to gather input from a diverse array of stakeholders throughout the Southern Great Plains to help inform the writing and development of the report and to raise awareness of the process and timeline for NCA4. Stakeholders from meteorology, climatology, tribes, agriculture, electric utilities, water resources, Bureau of Land Management, ecosystems, landscape cooperatives, and transportation from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas were represented. The productive dialog at this workshop identified important gaps in environmental economics, ecosystems, and health. Scientists working at the cutting edge of research in these three areas were selected: an ecosystems expert from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, an environmental economist from the department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Oklahoma, and health experts from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Aspen Global Change Institute.

This diverse collection of medical doctors, academics, researchers, scientists, and practitioners from both federal and state agencies gives the Southern Great Plains chapter a wealth of expertise across the many ways in which climate change will affect people in the region.

Description of evidence base:

This Key Message was developed in close coordination with the Human Health (Ch. 14) author team and incorporated applicable inputs from the U.S. Climate and Health Assessment.f1e633d5-070a-4a7d-935b-a2281a0c9cb6 Multiple lines of evidence demonstrate statistically significant associations between temperature, precipitation, and other climatologic variables with adverse health outcomes, including heat-related illness, respiratory disease, malnutrition, and vector-borne disease.f1e633d5-070a-4a7d-935b-a2281a0c9cb6 Regionally specific examples of these well-documented impacts were identified through literature reviews conducted to identify regionally specific studies of these impacts.

There is strong evidence that increasing average temperatures as well as increasing frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme heat events will occur in the Southern Great Plains by the middle and end of this century, with higher CO2 emissions leading to greater and faster temperature increases.29960c69-6168-4fb0-9af0-d50bdd91acd3 Extreme temperatures are shown with high confidence to have substantial effects on morbidity and mortality e337db11-d5e9-4a9b-be9f-7773befd61b9,499fabed-75ef-419f-b486-0e6a2a362d7b,f1e633d5-070a-4a7d-935b-a2281a0c9cb6 by causing heat-related illness and by increasing the risk of cardiovascular events, cerebrovascular events, respiratory disease, renal failure, and metabolic derangements.6b8418a6-978f-4196-8c50-c8ce246910ad,7ca0e947-163a-46f3-9274-cea209b94510 In addition to impacting health and well-being, extreme heat is likely to lead to a significant economic impact through an increase in healthcare costs, premature mortality, and lost labor.b736801a-659e-4482-a204-85fb3b3bf685 Within the Southern Great Plains, climate change is likely to exacerbate aridity due to drying of soils and increased evapotranspiration caused by higher temperatures.29960c69-6168-4fb0-9af0-d50bdd91acd3 Such aridity is likely to negatively impact the agricultural sector, contributing to food insecurity and increased pesticide use.646126e1-2c39-4498-891f-a7d36d902899 Extreme temperatures are projected to further impair food production in the region by significantly impacting the health and work capacity of outdoor workers.0b30f1ab-e4c4-4837-aa8b-0e19faccdb94 Additionally, shifting temperature and precipitation patterns are making habitats more suitable for disease-carrying vectors to move northward towards the Southern Great Plains region.b61cb4f4-19bd-4342-8817-9b42e069afc7,8075a876-c93a-40c5-8204-12c6a1cb68cb In southern Texas, sporadic, locally acquired outbreaks of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika have been reported.0b6c8fa6-d8b2-4b48-95c7-6ed91764eb87,76dac56d-2b76-470d-814a-768c073c7868,0c1b3632-547c-4215-8fd7-37577ff2b2d1 These diseases are transmitted by the Aedes agypti mosquitoes, which are currently expanding their geographic range into the Southern Great Plains region.b61cb4f4-19bd-4342-8817-9b42e069afc7,dbfb7cd9-7c82-43ea-a4e2-9e2eb0b851fd

Climate change is expected (with medium to high confidence) to increase the frequency of extreme rainfall and hurricanes, although impacts in the Southern Great Plains remain difficult to quantify.52ce1b63-1b04-4728-9f1b-daee39af665e The Gulf Coast of Texas in particular has experienced several record-breaking floods and tropical cyclones in recent years, including Hurricane Harvey. Hurricanes and resultant flooding result in significant health impacts, including deaths from drowning and trauma, critical shortages of essential medications, critical healthcare system power shortages, and forced patient evacuations.b5bf5f25-1fd9-43bd-8493-0ef2ee771f47 Such events strain healthcare resources not only within regions of direct hurricane impact but also within the entire region due to displacement of patient populations.f8225523-7ae9-4ab4-ac28-4cfafe1b508b

New information and remaining uncertainties:

The ability to quantitatively predict specific health outcomes associated with projected changes in climate is limited by long-term public health data as well as meteorological data. While assessments consistently indicate that climate change will have direct and indirect impacts on human health (high confidence), quantifying specific health metrics, such as incidence and community level prevalence, remains difficult. The uncertainty develops when there are many connected actions that influence health outcomes. For example, the future impact of climate change on human health is likely to be reduced by adaptation measures that take place on local and national scales. Additionally, the role of non-climate factors, including land use, socioeconomics, and population characteristics (such as immigration), as well as health sector policies and practices, will affect local and regional health impacts. The magnitude of impact of these variables on health at local and regional scales is difficult to predict. The estimation of future economic impacts is limited by difficulties in estimating the true cost of healthcare delivery and additionally only partially captures the actual impacts on health and livelihood of individuals and communities. Thus, existing projections likely underestimate the entirety of the economic impact.

Assessment of confidence based on evidence:

There is very high confidence that rising temperatures and changes in precipitation leading to flooding, runoff events, and aridity will likely lead to negative impacts on human health in the Southern Great Plains. There is high confidence that certain populations, such as very young and old and socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals, will likely be disproportionately affected.

References :

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