Opening Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer at an EPW Hearing entitled "Examining the Human Health Impacts of Global Warming"
October 23, 2007
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Global warming is the greatest environmental challenge that we face today.
This committee has held 18 hearings on global warming, and we have been briefed twice by leading scientists from the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. The focus of this hearing is the impacts of global warming on human health.
The IPCC tells us that if we fail to act there will be more melting of glaciers, loss of snowpack and water supplies, and extreme weather events, such as drought, flooding, and heat waves. These weather events can have profound impacts on human health.
The World Health Organization has estimated that human-induced changes in the Earth's climate lead to at least 5 million cases of illness and more than 150,000 deaths every year.
Global warming can affect public health in many ways. Increased temperatures due to global warming can cause more frequent and more severe heat waves, which can cause illness and even death. For example, the European heat wave of 2003 caused countless numbers of illnesses and claimed 35,000 lives.
Leading scientists are telling us is that we will have more extreme weather events like this as the planet warms, and that it is very likely to affect our health.
The World Health Organization predicts that in my home state of California, heat related deaths could more than double by 2100.
Scientists from the World Health Organization, the EPA and the IPCC are also are concerned that global warming may contribute to a spread of certain mosquito-borne diseases like Malaria. It could help spread certain viruses and other disease-causing organisms to new areas.
Global warming also may contribute to an increase in waterborne diseases, including cholera, which causes severe diarrhea. Drought can cause a spread of water-borne diseases by wiping out supplies of safe drinking water and concentrating pollution.
Floods can fuel water-borne illnesses as well. They wash sewage and other sources of pathogens into supplies of drinking water.
We are beginning to see what happens when the water warms. The Associated Press reported on September 28 that a 14-year old boy died from an infection caused by an amoeba after swimming in Lake Havasu.
According to a CDC official, these amoebas thrive in warm water, and as water temperatures continue to rise, we can expect to see more cases of these amoeba infections. The world as we have known it is changing.
Global warming also is expected to cause an increase of ground level ozone, or smog because more ozone is formed at higher temperatures. Smog damages lungs and can cause asthma in children. It also can cause premature death, especially in vulnerable people.
A study of cities in the Eastern U.S., conducted by scientists from the WHO and the University of Wisconsin, found that dangerous smog days could increase by 60% by 2050.
Our public health systems are already overburdened. Global warming will place tremendous new demands on public health officials. And if our public health infrastructure cannot withstand this, the impacts will only worsen.
The challenge ahead is great, but we can prevent the most severe impacts by taking action now to prevent dangerous global warming.
As Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank, tells us, every dollar we spend to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions would save five dollars later. This investment will help us prevent countless unnecessary illnesses and deaths.
And we are beginning to take action here in Congress. Just last week, Senator Lieberman and Senator Warner, showing great leadership, introduced a new, bipartisan, economy-wide global warming bill. This bill is an important start.
While today we will hear much about the threats and risks of global warming to our health, I face this problem with hope, not fear.
Global warming is an issue of great urgency for many reasons, one of which is the impact on public health. The stakes are high and time is of the essence. We must take action and we must do so now.
I would like to welcome all our witnesses today, including Dr. Gerberding, Director of the CDC, Dr. Frumkin of the National Center for Environmental Health, Dr. McCally from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Susan Cooper from the Tennessee Dept. of Health, and Dr. Roberts, from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Services.
Thank you all for being here today, your testimony makes an important contribution to our work.