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Climate, Health and Well-Being: Social and Psychological Effects of Extreme Weather

SPC Programs & Events, Uncategorized

By Micah Prewitt

On Monday, October 8th, a conference about the social and psychological effects of extreme weather was held at Saint Petersburg College’s Midtown campus. Dr. Tashika Griffith, the provost of SPC’s Downtown and Midtown centers introduced the panel. The event was moderated by Lisa Vanover, Vice president of the League  of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg area, and the Co-chair of the Sustainability Action Team.

Each member of the panel spoke about their concerns and research on the subject of climate change and extreme weather, and the affect it has on the wellbeing of a community, both mentally and physically. Also discussed were some phenomena and causes associated with global warming and some potential solutions to help slow and reduce the effects of climate change.

Dr. Maria Sgambati, a member of Physicians for Social Response (PSR): “It’s like the earth is surrounded by a sleeping bag, heat is unable to escape, resulting in higher temperatures,” Dr. Sgambati explained about the greenhouse effect, a phenomenon largely responsible for increasing temperatures.

Dr. Sgambati stressed that heat related illnesses are only the beginning of increasing temperatures. The rising sea level increases allergens and harms water quality, making humans vulnerable to a myriad of health issues. Extreme weather results in air pollution and gives more opportunity for vector illnesses like malaria. What is even worse is that the negative effects of global warming result in a poorer attitude, which is spread among the human population, resulting in violence and depression.

“This isn’t a concern for the future. This is happening now,” warned Dr. Sgambati. The effects of climate change are already visible. The recent hurricane that threatened the Florida panhandle, Hurricane Michael, was able to intensify rapidly thanks to warmer than average waters in the gulf strengthening it. Hurricane Irma was also extremely large compared to past hurricanes; larger than Florida itself. “Not only are storms more intense, they’re becoming more frequent, and larger,” Dr. Sgambati said. As far as heat, Dr. Sgambati explained that September was another record-breaking month, and October is on track to be another record-breaker. Vector transmitted diseases are also increasing exponentially.

Gayle Guldeah, who works with the Florida Department of Health explained that storm surge is getting worse for coastal Florida and is one of the most dangerous effects of a storm. A lot of people stay in their homes thinking they can ride the storm out, but it often does not end well . “It’s heartbreaking to hear the calls of people trapped in their homes during a storm, but emergency services just can’t reach them,” Guldeah said. Guldeah stressed the importance of evacuating and being prepared.

In addition, Guldeah discussed vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those in full-time care facilities. In one instance, a nursing home used portable fans to cool residents following a storm. Top floor residents experienced very high temperatures caused by heat rising up from the fans. Being educated on how to properly use emergency equipment is important so as to not cause injuries like these. Guldeah also mentioned the countless deaths from carbon monoxide caused by generators inside homes.

“Who in here has been affected by a hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, tornado, or any other form of extreme weather?” asked Dr. Adriana Uruena-Agnes, lead psychologist of SPC’s Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Almost everyone in the room raised their hands. “Imagine if those disasters didn’t only happen periodically, again, and again, and again,” she said.          Dr. Uruena-Agnes warned that extreme temperatures are resulting in more frequent disasters, and that these temperatures affect people psychologically in ways that dangerously cause people to misperceive peoples’ perceptions of each other, leading to more violent, depressed people and a more hostile planet.

The panel agreed that people can help reduce urban heat islands and reduce air pollution by planting trees and having rooftop gardens.  Dr. Sgambati even suggested painting parking lots white to reduce the amount of heat absorbed and trapped in the atmosphere.

Marybeth Dunn, executive director of PSR Florida gave the conclusion. “Being strong as a community is the most important way to combat challenges presented by climate change.”

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