UW professor: Climate change fight is woefully underfunded

Oct 3, 2023, 9:09 AM | Updated: 12:01 pm

Washington wildfires...

OMAK, WA - AUGUST 22: A makeshift fire truck puts water on a wildfire, which is part of the Okanogan Complex, as it burns through brush on August 22, 2015 near Omak, Washington. The fires have burned more tha 127,000 acres. (Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

(Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

A University of Washington environmental professor says the federal government needs to dramatically increase money to fund research on how climate change impacts health.

“We’ve systematically underinvested in this rapidly emerging health threat, and it has hamstrung our ability to respond,” said Dr. Jeremey Hess, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington School of Public Health, as reported in UW News.

Hess is one of the authors of a study in the current issue of the journal Health Affairs.

“In the Northwest, we are seeing a very clear signal of climate change with illnesses due to heatwaves, wildfires and wildfire smoke,” Hess said. “Other regions of the country are seeing a rise in injuries due to increased strength and frequency of storms and a rise in infectious diseases.

In the study, the researchers determined the amount of funding the government provided to universities and research institutes from 2010 to 2020 to specifically address the health effects of climate change was $59 million or roughly $5.3 million per year.

AP-NORC poll: After summer’s extreme weather, more Americans see climate change as a culprit

“Less than $60 million in more than a decade is a minuscule investment for a problem that is expected to have a global impact within the next few years on the scale of the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” Hess said.

For comparison, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), just one of the federal agencies included in the study, awarded more than $33 billion in grants just in 2022. The NIH has published information about its grant funding on its website.

The researchers noted 10 climate-related disasters in the U.S. in 2012 alone were estimated to have led to more than $10 billion in direct and indirect costs. In addition, the health effects of fossil fuel-related air pollution are estimated to cost the nation $820 billion a year.

Hess, who is also an emergency medicine physician at UW Medicine, said the impact of climate change is already apparent in the nation’s emergency rooms.

“Emergency care providers provide care to everyone, anytime, for anything, so we see what’s prevalent in our area, particularly among vulnerable populations,” Hess said.

The study’s authors call for more grant funding to support efforts to develop effective healthcare policies that will minimize the risks and reduce health-related economic impacts of climate change, especially those affecting vulnerable populations and marginalized ethnic and racial groups.

“While more funding is needed to understand how climate change affects health, we already know enough to start focusing now on identifying and evaluating interventions and how to implement those interventions effectively,” he continued.

“In many areas, we know what to do about climate change, but we need to move things along much more quickly than we are moving now,” Hess added.

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UW professor: Climate change fight is woefully underfunded