The prestigious medical journal The Lancet is out with a bombshell of a climate change report. It's the first major attempt to synthesize climate data with human health impacts. Considering the complexity of that task, experts in the field have raised questions about the report's methodology. However, a look at the US Army illustrates the essential truth behind the report: climate change is a public health concern because it affects human health, and is changing the way humans live and work.
The 2017 report surveys 40 indicators to reach a network of three conclusions:
First, climate change is already affecting global health, with a disproportionate effect on "those who are most vulnerable, and people in low- and middle-income countries."
Second, there is an urgent need to make up for lost time, and accelerate responsive policies:
The delayed response to climate change over the past 25 years has jeopardised human life and livelihoods.
The first part of that summing up is a relatively simple matter of correlating medical records with climate data. That part of the report is largely beyond dispute.
The new report is also consistent with another Lancet report that correlates other health threats with climate change, such as an extended allergy season and an increase in insect-borne infectious diseases.
However, as Meyer points out, measuring the impact on human activity is a much more complex endeavor.
Meyer reports that academic economists have, for example, questioned The Lancet's finding on labor capacity:
...The Lancet report makes an eye-popping assertion about the global economy, arguing that climate change has already significantly harmed labor capacity around the world. Between 2015 and 2016—which are the second- and first-hottest years ever recorded—it argues that “outdoor-labor capacity” fell by 2 percent. Since the year 2000, outdoor-labor capacity has fallen by 5.3 percent overall, it claims.
Climate change has fostered regional strife and a mounting series of humanitarian crises that are already affecting U.S. military readiness and force effectiveness. That includes rising sea levels, which are already threatening coastal military infrastructure including the important naval station at Norfolk, Virginia.
Another impact concerns the ability of the U.S. military to carry out effective training routines -- in essence, its ability to do its job.
Last year the U.S. Army published an article on just that topic, under the title "Climate change affecting Army training."
Army Captain Todd Lopez lays out the general picture:
For the Big Green Machine -- America's Army -- climate change, efforts to prevent it, or to at least adapt to it are about more than saving Mother Earth or even the whales. It's about training, training space, how the Army fights, how often the Army will be called upon to fight in the future, and where.
"...Much of [the facility] was destroyed. We couldn't use those ranges for training. And that's a unique asset in the Army. It affected the training cycle. And there was a significant cost to fix that."
Aside from extreme weather events, another area of concern is the health effects of air quality and heat on Soldiers. The U.S. Army has developed specific heat categories under which training must be curtailed, and those episodes are increasing dramatically.
In addition, Lopez notes that the Defense Department's supply chain can be affected by rising sea levels and extreme weather events that disrupt the global economy, with a consequent impact on training and readiness.
The Army's own manufacturing facilities are also vulnerable to water resource issues related to climate change.
Regardless of questions over The Lancet's methodology, climate change is already affecting the way U.S. soldiers work.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.