Southern California environment news and trends

LA County's Dr. Jonathan Fielding talks climate change adaptation in Senate hearing

Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of publi

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Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the County of Los Angeles, takes questions from the media about swine flu at a press conference in front of the county administration building in downtown Los on April 29, 2009.

LA County's director of Public Health Dr. Jonathan Fielding is in Washington DC today on behalf of the National Association of County & City Health Officials. 

He's testifying at a hearing of California Senator Barbara Boxer's Environment & Public Works Committee. In his prepared remarks, Fielding plans to say that climate has serious and far reaching health implications, now and in the future: 

[C]limate change is already changing the distribution of some infectious disease vectors and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, threatens to “increase the number of people suffering from death, disease and injury from heatwaves, floods, storms, fires and droughts.” Climate change may also cause social disruption, economic decline, and displacement of populations, all of which may impact health substantially. Climate change will disproportionately burden some—the very young and the elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, the poor and economically disadvantaged, and other marginalized groups.

Fielding says that matters to local public health agencies because they're tasked with dealing with that fallout, and communities expect them to show leadership on this issue. But with budget cuts, that ain't easy: 

[S]ince 2008, 50,000 jobs have been cut at health departments and approximately half of local health departments experienced a reduction in workforce capacity during the second half of 2011 alone.  Therefore, many local health departments have had to severely cut back on emergency preparedness planning activities due to personnel cuts.

In LA, Fielding says, it's all about adaptation. County risk assessments show increased heat and extreme weather events are real and already happening; global warming is already a factor in how county health responds to problems. 

The department conducts vulnerability assessments to geographically identify those most vulnerable to increased heat events (e.g. elderly, disabled, etc) so that we may provide them with information about extreme weather hazards and link them to emergency support resources. Externally, the Department influences local planning and land use decisions in an effort to incorporate climate change into comprehensive plans. We also inform the public of heat events and their impacts through health alerts and advisories.

Fielding brags on county's green purchasing policy, the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle campaign and county-implemented ride share. He also touts the city of LA's Green LA action plan. Or, actually, he will. Right now senators are debating climate science with scientists on the first panel of the hearing. 

Boxer's panel and Fieldings remarks miss an opportunity to tell Angelenos about a climate change portal the city of Los Angeles has created a couple of months back, C-CHANGE.LA. Earlier this summer, the group released its first in a series of unprecedented science reports, about temperature, that provides modeling information about the exact adaptation strategies and problems Fielding's talking about. 

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