Eight states in particular are both most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change and least prepared. States in the most-vulnerable/least-prepared group were: Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. Overall, the more vulnerable a state was, the less prepared it tended to be. Many of these high vulnerability/low prepared states are in the Southeast or Southern Great Plains.
Another group of states has done much more to prepare. This group includes: Colorado, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.
The District of Columbia
“We wanted to better understand the risks posed to individual states and their level of readiness to protect residents,” said the report’s lead author, Matt McKillop, senior researcher at Trust for America’s Health. “Our report gives officials at all levels practical information so they can do more to help their residents prepare.”
The researchers emphasized that every state, including those rated as most prepared, can do much more to protect residents from the harmful health impacts of climate change.
“The impacts of climate change on our health demand that policymakers respond,” said Megan Latshaw, a scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the report’s co-authors. “Our goal is that every single state will take this as a clarion call and think of this report as a starting point to do more to help make residents’ lives safer.”
Some climate-related events, such as hurricanes and wildfires, have obvious health impacts. But others are more insidious, including more frequent heat waves; deteriorating air quality; chronic flooding; and increases in vector, water, and food-related disease. These threats already exist. But climate change exacerbates them, and also shifts or expands the regions and populations at risk. In addition, all of these effects can take a severe toll on mental health and well-being.
The researchers calculated each state’s vulnerability by looking at a range of factors. Environment and geography are crucial, but in addition, social and demographic factors also play a key role. Some populations and communities are especially vulnerable. High-risk residents include those who are very young or very old, people with a disability, and those living in poverty. Often, the legacy and continued presence of systemic racism, including patterns of deprivation and discrimination, makes communities of color especially vulnerable.
The report makes recommendations for how federal, state, and local authorities can do more to safeguard residents’ health, particularly that of the most vulnerable.
State assessments were based on three indicators: vulnerability, public health preparedness, and climate-related adaptation. All of the report’s findings are relative, i.e., based on comparisons between states.
The report’s recommendations include:
- Congress should enact legislation creating a national climate-readiness plan.
- The administration and Congress should fully fund the CDC’s Climate and Health program and the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network.
- Strengthen the national public health system and workforce, including by modernizing data and surveillance capacities.
- Complete all steps of the CDC’s Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) framework.
- Bolster core public health preparedness capacity, and establish and sustain dedicated funding and staffing for climate-related preparations.
- Plan with communities, not for them.
This report was a joint project of TFAH and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and funded by the Bloomberg American Health Initiative with additional funding by The Kresge Foundation.