The new question about climate change has nothing to do with whether it exists, but rather how severe will it be?

This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a major report that focuses on the risks of climate change and how we need to adapt to lessen the impact. “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said Rajendra K. Pachauri, IPCC chairman.

A major portion of this important report is dedicated to the health impacts of climate change. In Maine we have already been seeing some of these effects.

The spread of Lyme disease and proliferation of tick populations for example have been widely reported in recent years, and we expect to see more including upsurges in asthma, heart disease, injuries, and even mental illness from the increased severity and frequency of weather patterns and storms and increases in populations of disease carrying insects and animals.

Should we be alarmed? Yes. But the report goes further and asks us to consider societal resiliency. We can prepare for these changes to reduce the impacts to public health by an overall strengthening of healthcare systems by, for one example, providing cooling facilities during heat waves. Decreasing air pollution, as a further example, has a co-benefit of helping to reduce asthma rates and also helps to reduce greenhouse gases.

What can you do? Continue to reduce energy usage. Support public policy change that encourages alternative energies and pollution taxes. Get involved with organizations in Maine like Physicians for Social Responsibility working on education and public policy to prepare and prevent climate related public health crises.

Karen A D’AndreaExecutive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility Maine ChapterPortland