Jonathan Portney works as a Health Services Director, and Medical Health Operations Area Coordinator in Lake County, California. Additionally, Jonathan serves on the Red Cross Committee for Community Health Organizations in Active Disasters. Recently, Jonathan Portney presented a comprehensive report (Health Consequences in Underserved Counties exposed to cascading hazards exacerbated by climate change) and led a significant public discussion on climate change implementation and Cal-AIM integration in Lake County. In the following article, Mr. Portney discusses both the visible and invisible impacts climate change has made on human health already, and why climate change is now a global health crisis.
With 2023 reaching record high temperatures across the globe and a global pandemic that ended only merely months ago, climate change has negatively impacted human lives and their health, especially those with comorbidities, the health impacts impact health outcomes on a daily level and will only continue to do so as time moves on.
Jonathan Portney Reports an Increase in Heat-Related Illnesses
This past July was recorded as the hottest month ever in human history with cities across the globe recording high temperatures. The record, however, is not applaudable.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences states that humans can suffer in extreme heat temperatures. The risk of health-related illness and complications like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia occurring are much higher in these environments. Additionally, people with chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease feel their symptoms further exemplified during extreme temperature fluctuations.
Jonathan Portney of North Lakeport, California says that for workers who labor outside, extremely high temperatures pose a direct danger to them as they are more prone to dehydration and heat exhaustion.
The Emergence of New Infectious Diseases
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a modern-day example of the severity of the emergence of a new infectious disease. Having spread globally in a matter of months, COVID-19 affected 760 million people and killed roughly 11 million, showing the severity and breadth of the disease.
Jonathan Portney of North Lakeport, California reports that due to increased heat temperature and changes in rainfall, pathogens can easily spread and grow in these favorable conditions. In these humid, warm environments, mosquitos and ticks also thrive and become potential carriers of certain diseases like Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and malaria, which can directly affect humans. Jonathan says that public and environmental health can help reduce reproduction and exposure to pathogens by providing health education at the community based level informing the public of the best practices to protect themselves, and their community.
An Increase Frequency of Natural Disasters
Jonathan Portney explains that wildfires, extreme droughts, and floods are increasingly occurring due to climate change. These natural disasters can cause permanent displacement for humans as resources and homes get destroyed. Jonathan is often concerned about access to durable medical equipment for those displaced, and the lack of clear and timely messaging to the community allowing them to act quickly when subject to natural disaster. Jonathan has seen an increase in funding put towards emergency operations services recently, and believes these types of investments/commitments will improve our response systems, service delivery, capacity, and patient safety throughout the state of California.
In 2022, 68,988 wildfires burned 7.6 million acres in the U.S. alone, affecting both humans and wildlife who live there. In the recent Canadian wildfire smoke, residents in the Eastern part of the U.S. saw their air quality affected by hazardous air pollutants, which can cause difficulties in breathing.
Extreme droughts also affect humans and wildlife. With little to no rainfall, water supplies become limited which can cause a decline in crops and livestock productivity. Countries that heavily rely on agriculture become more vulnerable as food resources become depleted and scarce.
The Rise in Mental Health Issues
Global climate change has deeply altered the world humans live in and how we struggle to adapt to these changes, leading to a rise in mental health issues.
Jonathan Portney says that an increase in heat-related illnesses and infectious diseases have both become a common stressors of human life, leading to heightened anxiety and depression. During the years of the COVID-19 pandemic, over 30% of U.S. adults reported symptoms of depression, with 2021 recording the highest percentage at 39.3%. This directly correlates the peak year of the pandemic to the year most people felt despair, anxiety, and loss of hope.
Extreme weather conditions can also cause humans to feel despair and anxiety. People who were affected by natural disasters may suffer from psychological distress or post-traumatic stress disorder, which has long-lasting effects on one’s mental health. These extreme weather conditions’ impact on food and water resources can also cause people distress as resources to fulfill basic human needs become limited. Mr. Portney expressed compassion for First Responders, while they are trying to save lives and property, they are also being subject to the same despair and anxiety of those they are trying to help.
Jonathan Portney says that climate change’s disruption to everyday routine can also impact mental health. Air pollution is a large problem with climate change that directly affects human physical and mental health. In addition to increasing the risk of respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurovascular diseases, breathing in air pollution also increases the chances of developing a mental health disease like depression.
The risk of ignoring climate change is far too great as the imminent threat it poses to humanity in every aspect of life grows at large. The clarion call from Jonathan Portney of North Lakeport, California, is a stark reminder of the urgency and gravity of the climate crisis we face. The threat is real, imminent, and pervasive, affecting every aspect of our lives. Yet, in this challenge, Jonathan sees an opportunity for collaboration, innovation, and transformation. He applauds the efforts of our government, first responders, and leaders who have taken the first steps towards a greener, more sustainable future. But he warns us that this is just the beginning. The stakes are high – our homes, our identities, and the legacy we leave for future generations. The time for debate has passed; the time for action is now. As we stand at this critical juncture, let us remember that together, we have the power to ensure a sustainable future for all. Our planet, our home, depends on it.