American Policy: Saving Trillions Part 5: Disease Control

Part five of the American Policy portion of the Climate Change Policy Series: Act America, act now, sooner than later. Climate change inaction stands to cost Americans trillions of dollars due to loss of biodiversity, economic spillovers, national security, migration, and disease control. The bottom line: mitigating climate change now and swiftly will save Americans more money than inaction or slow action.

American policy makers misuse climate models for short-term gain. These models should be taken with a grain of salt; they are educated predictions of the future that leave out major considerations. One consideration, Disease-control would threaten public health for generations. Transmission of disease will increase in a warmer climate through migrating animals, insects, and humans. A warmer climate will be more hospitable to lyme disease, Valley Fever, and West Nile virus (Field, 2007). New diseases will emerge and evolve in a warmer climate (Morse, 2004), pulling funds from current health budgets. As the US Center for Disease Control (2009) states, "Climate change may result in changing distribution of Vector Borne Zoonic Disease prevalent in the U.S. This could cause formerly-prevalent diseases such as malaria and dengue fever to re-emerge, or facilitate the introduction and spread of new disease agents, such as West Nile virus." As UK health secretary Andy Burnham put it, climate change poses a "Very real, very present" danger to health (Guardian, 2009).

Crippled disease control for other nations threatens American health. The US has 73 international airports that transport thousands of passengers each hour. It only takes one infected passenger to contaminate thousands; spread would only need several days to reach millions. Quarantine measures and health screenings to prevent this catastrophe represents astronomical costs. For example, the SARs outbreak in Taiwan (2 international airports) warranted screening of 2.7M passengers, 115,000 of which were quarantined (Freeman & Guzman, 2009). SARs cost the East Asian region 2% of GDP. As countries will become centers for disease proliferation for generations, their ability to diagnose, quarantine, treat, prevent, and report these health endemics will diminish greatly. The possibility that international airports from poorer nations will be unable to detect, contain, or warn other nations about spreading disease poses a real and present danger for Americans everywhere.

Disease Control for the US is costly. Congress appropriated $7.7B in June to fight pandemic flu, including H1N1. (pbs.org, 2009). The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted had H1N1 been a "mild" pandemic that sickens 75M people and kills 100,000, the price tag for disease control would have been 1% GDP or $140B (of 2008 US GDP). A "more severe" case in which 90M were infected and 2M killed, the costs would reach 4-4.5% GDP or $630B (2008 US GDP).

The bottom line: mitigating climate change for protecting against Disease Control alone could save trillions. The sooner, the cheaper; the best defense is a strong offense. Finally wrapping up the American Policy portion of the Climate Change Policy Series, the next post will put all the costs together (Freeman & Guzman, 2009).

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