Doctors put a price on the annual impacts of climate change on health. It’s $ 820 billion.

Renee Salas, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, has long pondered the links between climate change and public health. In her emergency room in Boston, she sees the consequences of the warm-up up close. Extreme heat, air pollution, vector-borne diseases and longer allergy seasons are taking their toll on his patients. “My job as an emergency doctor is to protect my patients and keep them healthy,” she said at a press briefing on Thursday. “Climate change increasingly threatens my ability to do this. “

Salas was present at the briefing to give his opinion on a new report that shows the health costs of climate change now far exceed $ 820 billion a year in the United States. One of her patients, she told reporters, a middle-aged man, visited his emergency room 30 times in a year with debilitating symptoms of Lyme disease – a transmitted disease by ticks which can cause fever, headache, muscle pain and neurological damage. She cared for a four-year-old girl who had to seek emergency care for asthma attacks intensified by the pollen seasons and air pollution. The girl’s mother, a single mom, asked Salas for a doctor’s note so she could show her boss that she was taking time off work for a legitimate reason – she had already been forced to miss three-quarters of her time. work this week and should probably miss more to care for her sick child.

“Receiving care for climate-sensitive illnesses can quickly add up,” said Salas, who was not involved in writing the report. “We can no longer ignore these costs and they must be factored into our decision-making. ”

“The Costs of Inaction: The Economic Burden of Fossil Fuels and Climate Change on Health in the United States”, published Thursday by the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, the Medical Consortium on Climate and Health and the Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action , gives precise figures on the astronomical costs of climate change for health.

Some of these health costs include premature death, medical care for physical and mental health after a major natural disaster, lost wages due to climate-related illnesses, and the cost of prescription drugs for these illnesses. The report found that diagnosing, treating and managing new cases of Lyme disease nationwide cost between $ 860 million and $ 1.6 billion annually. The cost of mosquito-borne West Nile virus hospitalizations, premature deaths, emergency room visits and other outpatient visits is $ 1.1 billion per year.

By aggregating past climate-related public health costs, the report shows that a myriad of medical problems caused by climate change are already a financial burden on taxpayers. And researchers believe those costs will continue to rise as climate change accelerates. “These impacts are here and now,” said Vijay Limaye, NRDC environmental health scientist and co-author of the report. “They’re not just a distant threat.”

The report’s authors readily admit that calculating the exact price of specific climate-related diseases is tricky. Federal science agencies like the United States Environmental Protection Agency track the impacts of climate change on public health, but the authors said no federal agency is currently tracking the impacts of climate change. costs of these impacts. In addition, hospitals often do not classify certain illnesses as climate-related, and local health services are underfunded, compounding the lack of data on this issue. As a result, the report says the true health costs of climate change are probably well, well over $ 820 billion per year.

The report also found that the populations that bear the brunt of these costs are often already vulnerable to begin with – low-income Americans, some communities of color, children and pregnant people, the elderly, and Indigenous groups. Researchers have found that Medicare and Medicaid patients are not only particularly susceptible to illnesses linked to climate change, but also bear the greatest share of the costs. “Our inaction is particularly devastating for vulnerable communities, but everyone is affected in one way or another by these damages and / or costs to health,” Donald De Alwis, research analyst at the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health and co-author of the report. , noted.

Ruth McDermott Levy, associate professor of environmental health at Villanova University who was not involved in writing the report, told Grist the findings are a valuable addition to the existing body of climate literature and health, because they “put all the financial cost of human health impacts in one place. The report also includes a silver liner, she said. It provides policymakers, health professionals and the public. public about specific actions they can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – from using public transport to public health professionals advocating for climate policy.

“Ultimately, action on climate change is a prescription for improved health and fairness,” said Salas, the Boston emergency physician. “Climate action will also save us money. ”

Eleanor C. William