Blog Center for Community Health Partnership & Research

Climate change is a public health crisis

Written by Ola Adebayo, MPH candidate and student worker at the Institute for Public Health

There has been a plethora of unprecedented climate activity in 2021. This year we have seen global sea levels rise to a new high, months of rainfall occurred in the space of a few hours in China, levels of CO2 reached a 149% increase since preindustrial levels, and the Dixie Fire, the largest record fire in California’s history, burned 390,000 hectares. In the last month of December, St. Louis has been affected by these climate-related disasters with what is being referred to as the “Quad-State Tornado”, which ravaged 200 miles from Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. The tornado left 70 dead and may have set the record for the longest continuous tornado in United States history. Not only is this extremely rare for December, but it hasn’t been seen since the “Tri-State Tornado” in 1925 that crossed Missouri, Illinois, Indiana.

Recently, 120 global leaders came together to determine action steps to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The United States is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases and signed onto the compromise that they will agree to “enhance ambition” on climate change by doing more to cut emissions. Although this compromise is a necessary step to keep global temperature change under 1.5℃, there is a lack of tangible action items in the compromise. These meetings are composed of government negotiators and political and scientific advisors whose “solutions” to climate change rely on the same set of beliefs, values, assumptions, and facts that created the problem in the first place. Without public health advocates involved in these conversations, there is insufficient input about the adverse health and deadly consequences of climate change.

Weather-related disasters are a key element of public health administration. These disasters can impact infrastructure, food supply, and mass migrations, and homelessness which can be seen in St. Louis City and County. A better understanding of climate change impacts on public health is needed to create sustainable solutions for the benefit of the global community.