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States Address Climate Change

Yale Public Health Magazine, Focus: Spring 2024
by Alixandra Rachman and Caroline Helsen


In a time defined by climate hazards and their profound impact on community health, the role of state governments in addressing these challenges has never been more crucial. This essay spotlights the measures taken by three health departments to address and lessen the impacts from extreme weather induced by climate change, and foster resilience within their communities.

The Midwest has seen the second largest increase in the number of extreme precipitation days, with the total precipitation on the heaviest 1% of days increasing by 45% from 1958 to 2021, according to a U.S. climate assessment. Extreme precipitation can harm communities in several ways, including physical injury and property damage from flooding, and pollutant runoff in drinking water. To address these and other climate hazards, it is critical to ensure city master plans factor in climate change with a public health lens. In Michigan, the state health department partnered with Michigan State University and the Marquette Climate Adaptation Task Force to pilot a Climate and Health Adaptation Planning Guide. Marquette used the guide to identify community concerns and priorities, make policy recommendations, and outline short- to long-term implementation goals. Marquette’s work lays the foundation for the state to start this planning process with two additional communities at the end of 2024.

Canada’s recording-breaking 2023 wildfire season was the first time many states in the U.S. responded to a significant increase in poor air quality days due to wildfire smoke. While some states were caught off guard, it was an opportunity for them to turn to their partners in the West for their expertise and resources. One example is the Wildfire Smoke Partner Toolkit developed by the Washington State Department of Health, in collaboration with an interagency advisory group. The toolkit includes a children’s activities guide, guidance for canceling outdoor events and closing schools, and flyers for populations most vulnerable to air pollution such as pregnant people and people with lung and heart diseases, and more.

In 2023, Connecticut experienced its warmest January and second-warmest December on record, with temperatures soaring beyond historical averages. The rise in climate change extreme heat, compounded by poor air quality, has exacerbated respiratory issues and led to an increase in emergency room visits for heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke and exhaustion. The Connecticut Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health, is working to implement the Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) framework. This initiative aims to partner with local governments in developing heat and air quality response plans to safeguard communities from the health risks of extreme temperatures and elevated ozone levels. To learn more about BRACE activities, read the essay by Hannah Beath and Jennifer Wang.

In response to these pressing challenges, it’s imperative that we, as members of the community, actively engage with our local and state governments. Whether by attending town hall meetings or participating in public hearings, our involvement is essential in shaping effective responses to climate hazards. We’re excited to work together to build a safer and more climate-resilient future for all.

Your Action Item For Change:

Attend a local government meeting. Help to shape your local government’s response to climate change and build a safer future for all.

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