Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Impacts on Public Health and Agriculture

On April 10th I went to the Wilson Center for an event called Climate Change and Extreme Weather: Impacts on Public Health and Agriculture. The event speakers were Tom Karl, Director of the National Climatic Data Center, Catherine Thomasson, Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility and William Hohenstein, Director of the Climate Change Program Office at the Department of Agriculture. A brief introduction was made by the Brazil Institute Director Paulo Sotero, who talked about how Brazilians are protecting their rainforest and the measures the government is taking to reduce extreme weather impacts in Brazil.

This event was very interesting. We always hear how global climate change will affect us but I haven’t had the opportunity to actually listen to the experts and realize the causes and effects that can affect us as a society. Tom Karl presented very valuable information focusing on the U.S regions that are impacted by billion dollar disasters. He pointed out that there is a correlation between natural disasters and heat index registered over the years. For example in California there has been an increase of forestal fires and the intensity of thunderstorms in the southeast region has also rise. Although there are some extreme weather changes that can be detected like heat waves, others like severe thunderstorm and extra tropical cyclones are harder to detect. He concluded his talk by stating that the better ability they have to observe changes the better they can understand and identify the patterns.

Next up was Catherine Thomasson, who explained the effects that climate change has on the population’s health. For instance she focused on how for example the loss of electricity by severe thunderstorms or just the increase of heat waves can impact the elderly, chronically ill and little children. She pointed out that in 2003 during the European heat wave, the number of deaths dramatically increased.  Heat also impacts the health of those in vulnerable regions like Africa. Mosquito disease and malaria are affecting areas, which due to extreme high temperature the disease is more likely to spread faster. Dengue fever has also increase in the southern region of the U.S due to climate change. Another important point she focused on was the fact that drought increased forest fires and therefore it affects vital crops that we eat every day. A statistic I found very interesting and important to share is that 2 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean potable water. To conclude, she mentioned that human intervention is necessary to help reduce emissions and to move towards renewable energy.

The last panelist was William Hohenstein and he specifically focused on how climate change is impacting agriculture in the US. As well as Catherine he called for a reduction of greenhouse emissions. He gave various example on how severe weather affected crops. For instance, corn suffers from high nighttime temperatures as well as soybean from water stress and high temperatures. Wheat and small grains can be frozen during flowering and affected by water stress. Although his data showed important damages towards the crops he was much more optimistic when talking about farmer’s adaptation to severe weather. He stated that farmers are adapting to the change and that they are trying to develop new strategies, tools and practices for adaptation.  Nonetheless, effects are likely to worsen significantly if greenhouse emissions remain high.

Overall I think this event was very interesting and I certainly enjoy it. Like I said we always hear about these changes but to actually see data and listen to the expert’s it changes your perspective about the issue and makes you realize that with small changes we can all contribute in solving the problem.


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