Bold Thinking at Abt: Global Health Security

David Mills

Senior Associate, Environment and Natural Resources
Climate change and health

Translating the impacts of climate change on human health is part of the groundbreaking work of Environment and Natural Resources Senior Analyst David Mills.

Mills, along with a team of Abt colleagues, has been working with clients and communities to make an abstract term like climate change relatable and understandable.

“We’re trying to put a different perspective on climate change,” Mills says. “We’re drawing on technical scientific discussions and analyses to try and frame the discussion in terms people can easily understand.”

Mills explains that many may associate climate change with an anticipated overall warming. However, few people may understand this anticipated overall warming will increase other concerns, such as disease vectors like mosquitoes and ticks, for example, or poor air quality days. These outcomes in turn can have real health security consequences.

“Climate change can cause those sorts of impacts,” Mills points out, “that could mean increases in the number or geographic distribution of illnesses like Lyme disease or additional trips to the Emergency Department for asthma.”

A New Benchmark Report on Climate Change and Health

Mills can speak first hand since he was part of the author team for the report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment.

Mills co-authored the second chapter, “Temperature-Related Death and Illness,” which provides an exhaustive review of the relevant literature, with an emphasis on studies in the U.S. Compared with past reviews of the health impact of temperature in prior national reports, this chapter expands the detail and scope of discussion. The chapter also highlights new work completed by a research team managed by Mills that highlights the variability in existing temperature-death relationships, and the tradeoffs over time as both hot and cool seasons warm.
This variability is important, Mills says, because projected temperature changes vary by location along with the temperatures to which a population is adapted. For example, while a 90-degree day would not be unusual in the hot season in Texas, it would be in Vermont.

Likewise, some populations will bear a greater burden than others. For temperature, older adults, pregnant women and children are populations of concern. This includes seemingly healthy groups like high-school football players who are still vulnerable to heat illness.

Evidence to Inform Action

The potential for these types of effects from climate change are important factors communities need to consider, Mills argues. Ultimately, who you are, and where and how you live, work and play can make a person more vulnerable to temperature illness and other climate-related health stressors.

Because resources are finite, he warns, not considering these factors now could strain systems and security in the future.

“In general, climate change will increase stress in cities and will have an increase in related health impacts,” Mills shares. “Hopefully the information in the report is useful for people and organizations who want to better understand the link between climate change and potential health impacts and pursue appropriate mitigation and response actions wherever they may be.”

Areas of Expertise

  • Environmental and resource economics
  • Policy analysis
  • Climate change