The impacts of climate change and fossil fuel production are tied to more than $820 billion a year in physical and mental health care costs, according to a report issued Thursday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The report, co-produced with the Medical Society Consortium on Climate & Health and Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action, found that health problems from soot air pollution alone have a yearly price tag of $820 billion. Ozone pollution caused by burning fuels and increased temperatures, meanwhile, adds roughly $7.9 billion in annual health costs.
The report also incorporates naturally occurring phenomena affected by temperature increases and concentration of carbon dioxide. For example, warming has exacerbated the effects of allergenic oak pollen, which led to an estimated $11.4 million in annual costs, according to the report. Researchers estimated that in 2010, allergenic oak pollen was the cause of more than 21,000 emergency room visits.
Meanwhile, increasing temperatures were estimated to cause $263 million in yearly health costs due to a combination of heat stress, heat strokes and exacerbated cardiovascular problems. Similarly, wildfire smoke cost an estimated $16 billion annually and caused 6,200 hospital visits for respiratory problems, according to the report.
The report also addresses 2012’s Superstorm Sandy, which it estimates led to 273 premature deaths, more than 13,000 hospital, outpatient or emergency room visits, and a total of $3.3 billion in health costs. The report comes the same week as research published in the journal Nature Communications, which estimated that human-caused sea level rises led to an additional $8 billion in damages from the storm.
“We face a choice: continue down this dead-end path of inaction and soaring healthcare bills. Or make smart investments now in cost-effective solutions that will prevent millions of people in our country—especially the most vulnerable—from suffering injuries, illness, and premature death. The time to act is now,” co-author Vijay Limaye, a climate and health scientist with NRDC, said in a statement.
The report, which is based on data from multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies, is set to be presented Saturday at the annual conference of the Medical Society Consortium.