States Where Climate Change Is Making an Impact on Public Health

The year 2020, no doubt, will be forever defined by the unprecedented global chaos brought by COVID-19. But 2020 was also a historically grim year in the battle against climate change, particularly in the United States. In the West, tens of thousands of wildfires — an annual occurrence dramatically exacerbated by exceptionally hot, dry weather — burned upwards of 10 million acres. Dozens were killed directly from the blazes and thousands lost their homes; millions of other residents were forced to breathe what was temporarily some of the world’s most polluted air, possibly leading to long-term health problems.

Thousands of miles away, the Atlantic Ocean produced a record-breaking 30 named hurricanes and tropical storms, including 12 that made landfall on the continental United States. Category 4 Hurricane Laura, among the strongest storms ever to hit the country, caused dozens of deaths in Louisiana and billions of dollars in damage. A continually warming Atlantic means such storms will likely only become more frequent.

[READ: Report: Cities Must Do More on Climate]

In the context of the intensifying global climate threat, a new report from Trust for America’s Health, a public health policy organization, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health measured states’ vulnerability to public health impacts from climate change and their levels of readiness for such impacts.

“Climate change poses serious threats to human health,” the report noted. “Too often, the issue is framed as a risk for the distant future, but in fact it is here today.”

To determine states’ vulnerability to the public health effects of climate change, researchers measured incidences of six different climate-related environmental hazards: extreme heat, flooding, drought, wildfire, severe storms and disease vectors. They also assessed various social and demographic factors, including states’ poverty levels, racial compositions and housing security. The study’s sources included storm data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Southeastern states — which are prone to severe storms and have higher poverty levels — ranked as the most vulnerable. Researchers assigned states a score on a scale of 1 to 10, based on their deviation from the national mean. Florida, with a score of 6.3, ranked as the most vulnerable state overall, followed by Arkansas and Louisiana. The Sunshine State, whose residents have witnessed sea level rise firsthand for years now, was assessed as particularly prone to flooding. The study found the state was also at risk because of its age composition.

Here are the 10 states that are most vulnerable to public health effects from climate change:

State Score
Florida 6.3
Arkansas 6.1
Louisiana 5.9
South Carolina 5.9
Mississippi 5.9
Kentucky 5.9
West Virginia 5.8
Alabama 5.8
New Mexico 5.8
Georgia 5.6

States farther north fared better. Alaska, with an overall vulnerability score of 3.4, ranked as the least vulnerable. But even the nation’s coldest and most rugged state won’t be spared: the report notes that warming waters off the Alaskan coast are poisoning shellfish, endangering the lives of Alaska Natives.

Here are the the 12 states that are least vulnerable to public health effects from climate change:

State Score
Alaska 3.4
Utah 3.8
Colorado 4
New Hampshire 4.1
North Dakota 4.1
Idaho 4.2
Wyoming 4.2
Vermont 4.3
Montana 4.3
Maryland 4.4
Wisconsin 4.4
Minnesota 4.4

More from U.S. News

Why President-Elect Biden Should Make ‘Resilience’ a Key Component of His Climate Strategy

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Expected to See Historic Drop Amid Pandemic

A New Report Finds Cities Must Take More Action to Curb Climate Change

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