Climate change: $14B in health costs

Health costs associated with climate change are: $14 billion dollars, 21,000 emergency room visits, 1,700 deaths, and 9,000 hospitalizations. In the first study to look at the health care costs of climate change, Columbia researchers make a case for more preparation to respond to climate change.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

When a hurricane or other severe weather event hits, damage is measured in property damage or insurance costs. But who is tallying up the health care costs due to climate change?

This week, scientists said health care costs associated with climate change disasters is $14 billion.

"Right now, there's a gaping hole in our understanding of the health-related costs of climate change. This report begins the work to fill that void. Only by having a clear sense of health impacts and their costs, can we work to reduce them," Columbia's Kim Knowlton said in a statement.

Within the last 10 years, the six disasters that the study looked at were:

  • Florida hurricanes, $1.4 billion
  • California heat waves and wild fire, $578 million
  • North Dakota floods, $20 million
  • ozone air pollution, $6.5 billion
  • West Nile virus outbreaks in Louisiana, $207 million

So what's the damage? Well, nearly 1,700 premature deaths, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 21,000 emergency room visits, and 730,000 outpatient visits, according to a release.

The study was published in Health Affairs, which included the cost of human suffering and the loss of life from the six disasters mentioned above.

The LA Times reports:

Most of those costs -- 95% -- were attributable to the value of lost lives, they wrote. About $740 million originated in "760,000 encounters with the health care system."

Climate change health problems could get worse before it gets any better. According to an International Energy Agency report, unless there's a policy change soon, climate change may be irreversible.

Photo: NASA

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