Monday, July 11, 2016

Lyme disease, a Climate Change indicator in our region, is telling us to wake up

First, let’s get on the same page when we talk about Climate Change indicators. Here’s what our US government understands it to be: “…indicators of climate change can communicate key aspects of the changing environment, point out vulnerabilities, and inform decisions about policy, planning, and resource management.” Indicators, from 

This is what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) thinks:

Many lines of scientific evidence show the Earth's climate is changing. This page presents the latest information from several independent measures of observed climate change that illustrate an overwhelmingly compelling story of a planet that is undergoing global warming. It is worth noting that increasing global temperature is only one element of observed global climate change. Precipitation patterns are also changing; storms and other extremes are changing as well. (Global Climate Change Indicators, NOAA)

Basically, climate change indicators are things like:

Sorry about all the hyperlinks but they lead somewhere. They lead to a plethora of indicators that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Climate Change is not only knocking at our door but threatening to break it down.

Buried in the EPA’s litany of indicators is Lyme Disease and I haven’t though too much about this particular indicator, as the local media doesn’t mention it much. (You can track local coverage of Lyme disease since 2000 here.)

So, it came as a surprise to come across this news report this week about the Lyme disease crisis in the Hudson Valley and how it’s at the forefront of a political fight.

Lyme disease drives campaign in Hudson Valley As campaigns for local offices intensify, candidates are running on fairly traditional campaign issues — job creation, economic growth and Second Amendment rights, to name just a few. But in the Hudson Valley, an unexpected issue has emerged.. In a race in the 41st Senate district in the Hudson Valley, candidates from both major parties have made Lyme disease a central part of their campaigns. The ailment, a result of tick bites, can produce a wide range of symptoms including fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis. Dutchess and the surrounding counties have some of the highest levels of the disease in the nation. (July 5, 2016) Politicol

It’s a surprise to find that not too far from us in Rochester there is a major outbreak of Lyme disease but I guess many New Yorkers were already well aware of the problem:

More than 71,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported in New York since 2000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, 3,736 new cases were reported in the state. The number of cases is rising in many counties, including those in Central New York. Onondaga County had just a handful of cases in the early 2000s, but nearly 200 from 2011 to 2014. (How many cases of Lyme disease where you live? Search our NY database by county, March 16, 2016

This is how prevalent Lyme disease crisis is in the affected area and how at least one of our politicians understands the problem.

“In the Hudson Valley, almost everyone knows someone suffering the effects of Lyme or TBDs,” said Senator Serino. “While the diseases might not be known to that extent in other communities, they’re certainly beginning to spread across the state and eyes are really starting to open to the severity of Tick-Borne Diseases. If we want to prevent that spread and help those who are suffering, combatting Lyme and TBDs needs to be a priority each and every year.” (April 1, 2016, SERINO RENEWS COMMITMENT TO BATTLE LYME DISEASE New York State Senate).

Here’s what concerns me greatly. We have a massive outbreak of a major Climate Change indicator going on now and our politicians and media don’t mention the connection with this outbreak with the crisis of our age. Our climate experts have continually linked Lyme disease as an indicator of Climate Change and study after study has clearly linked the increase of Lyme disease in the Northeast with Climate Change. Here’s a reference to that link in our most important climate study pertaining to our region.

"Climate change may have serious implications for diseases affecting wildlife and people. Vector species, such as mosquitoes, ticks, midges, and other biting insects, respond dramatically to small changes in climate, which in turn alters the occurrence of diseases they carry. For example, Lyme disease, erlichiosis, and other tick-borne diseases are spreading as temperatures increase, allowing ticks to move northward and increase in abundance. " (Page 185, Report 11-18 Response to Climate Change in New York State (ClimAID) funded by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (2011)

Along with the dramatic increase in heavy rains in our region since 1958 (I know, we’re experiencing a little drought here in Monroe County right now, but this is a discussion about climate not weather), we are experiencing many other indicators of Climate Change in our region like Lyme disease. But our politicians talk about every aspect of Lyme disease—the symptoms, the number of people affected, how this devastating disease can screw up your life, how to prevent tics when going outdoor, and much more—except the very real connection with Climate Change. So when our politicians and the media don’t connect the dots between Lyme disease and Climate Change it means the public gets very concerned. But the public doesn’t realize we are experiencing Climate Change; the public doesn’t realize that our public health is already seriously compromised by Climate Change.

This code of silence between the media and our politicians on Climate Change means the public continues to believe that Climate Change is some far-off disaster they don’t have to worry about. It means when we vote in November, the public will still think Climate Change is not a priority.
It means we are allowing ourselves to let these few short years we have before the window of opportunity to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of Climate Change to go by without a public engagement on a level and speed that will ultimately matter.

Time passes. 

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