That conclusion is from a new report by the Oregon Health Authority, which looked at weather trends from the last two years, and determined extreme events like heat waves, wildfires, and drought unfairly affected marginalized groups.
For example, OHA says from May to August 2021, there were 242% more heat-related illness visits to ERs and urgent care centers than in 2020. And 59% of patients seen for heat-related illnesses in Oregon in 2021 came from areas with a median household income under $50,000.
One person not surprised by the findings is Jerrel Brown, environmental justice organizer for the Eugene-Springfield NAACP. He said low-income people are often at the mercy of the elements.
“They are the canary in the coal mine for the negative effects that pop up for those who can’t afford to pay their way out of it, so to speak,” Brown told KLCC. “You are likely to be in a situation where you (have) less resources available to combat any of these issues.”
The NAACP is working on policy change, as well as helping hard-up homes get access to things like affordable air conditioning units.
OHA’s Climate and Health in Oregon 2021-2022 report was released on June 22. The agency affirms findings of its 2020 report that showed climate events more severally affected communities of color, Native American tribes, lower incomes households, older adults, people with disabilities, outdoor workers, and under- or uninsured Oregonians.
“Heat waves occur from time to time as a result of natural variability. But human-caused climate change, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, is contributing to the intensity of extreme weather events here and around the globe,” Oregon Public Health Director Rachael Banks explained in the report. “Due to climate change, nearly the entire state will need to prepare for steady increases in extreme heat over the next several decades.”
OHA issued its first Climate and Health in Oregon report in 2020. Its latest one is a combined report for both 2021 and 2022. The agency said no report was issued last year due to staffing issues tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its release, OHA says its Climate and Health in Oregon 2021-2022 report highlights several high-profile extreme climate events that caused spikes in hospitalizations and deaths over the last two years, including:
The OHA says investments by Oregon lawmakers over the last three years have supported climate and health resilience, such as:
OHA invites people to learn more at www.healthoregon.org/climate.
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