Make no mistake — Minnesota’s climate is changing. And that shifting climate has a significant, and underappreciated, impact on our health.
As the amount of greenhouse gases continues to rise, nine of the top 10 warmest years for Minnesota have occurred just within the last three decades. And with a warming atmosphere, more evaporation occurs — which means Minnesota has seen a significant increase in heavy rain events.
More greenhouse gasses can lead to more air pollution. Extreme heat can cause heat stroke and heat exhaustion. More frequent and severe rain events are contributing to more floods. Warmer, wetter climate trends may encourage the spread of tick-borne diseases. In short, climate change is making us sicker.
Meanwhile, access to health care accounts for only about 10 percent of a person’s overall health. Societal, economic and physical environment factors — like whether we have healthy air to breathe, or how safe and walkable our neighborhoods are — account for about half of our healthiness.
This means that while climate change is the greatest global health threat of the 21st century, it also presents an opportunity. Green communities built with resilience in mind can play significant roles in supporting human health.
Businesses and organizations throughout the country have taken up the mantle of climate resilience — the idea that we can mitigate the negative impacts of climate change while at the same time creating opportunity for benefits and growth.
What does climate resilience look like? On May 3, I had the privilege of presenting at U.S. Green Building Council Minnesota’s IMPACT 2017 conference, the largest green building conference in the Midwest. At this conference, which brings together green leaders focused on actionable solutions, I discussed how the built environment can play a key role in climate and health resilience efforts.
Innovating while saving money
For example, Murphy Warehouse, a supply chain logistics company based in Minneapolis, has embraced environmental sustainability and resilience as a smart business strategy. By investing in a native prairie instead of a manicured lawn, they’ve saved nearly $1 million in landscaping costs. As another local example, the Science Museum of Minnesota has saved nearly $300,000 annually by undergoing an innovative advanced heat recovery retrofit of its facility.
There are many steps we can take as individuals, as well. We can drive less by switching to biking, carpooling or using public transit at least twice a week. We can switch to Energy Star light bulbs. We can reduce our consumption of foods, like meat, that require high energy input, and plant more trees. We can invest in green power, like solar or wind, for our homes.
Climate change is the greatest threat we’ve ever faced — but we have feasible, tangible opportunities to disrupt climate change and build resilience. Working together and building a community of support for resilience is critical for ensuring that all people have the opportunity to live healthy and rewarding lives.
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