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2015 Rating Red Pie chart showing King County Human Health and Economic Impacts of Climate Change Indicator Key

King County Human Health and Economic Impacts of Climate Change

Climate change will have long-term consequences for both public health and the economy in King County; some of these impacts are already occurring. King County is tracking human health and economic impact indicators that are showing improvements in air quality but also increasing natural disasters, decreasing salmon populations, and negative heat-related impacts to human health. These observed changes are consistent with the projected local impacts of climate change, and many other impacts are also likely. King County is also tracking Environmental Impacts of Climate Change as well Greenhouse Gas Emissions at the Community Level and the Climate Protection Response of King County Government Operations.

It is important to note that the human health and economic impacts being tracked by King County are affected by multiple factors in addition to climate change. For example, the frequency of natural disasters is also affected by where people live and work and how prepared they are for storms. However, climate change has been shown to be an important influence on each of the indicators presented. Tracking changes in these indicators is critical to assessing how severe local climate change-influenced impacts are and also how well the King County community is doing to reduce climate change related risks and impacts.

Five key human health and economic indicators impacted by climate change are briefly described below:

Human Health & Heat Impacts Data from the greater Seattle area indicate that between 1980-2006 the risk of death and mortality due to all non-traumatic causes and circulatory causes rose for the citizens 45 years and older during the hottest summertime days.
Air Quality Recent data in King County shows the number of days per year with air particulates exceeding the Particulate Matter Size 2.5 daily health standard has been decreasing over the last 10 years from about 60 days in 2000 down to less than 10 days in 2010.
County Operations The intensity and duration of a flooding in King County rivers has significant impacts to public and private property and infrastructure and the economy. Changes in flooding also directly affect government operations. Over the short period for which data is available (since 2007), data show a trend in increasing hours of operation of the King County Flood Warning Center.
FEMA disasters Flood, severe storm and coastal storm related FEMA disasters in the King County have been occurring more frequently in the most recent decade.
Fish Wild juvenile chinook salmon abundance in King County watersheds have been decreasing since the early 2000s. Overall, wild chinook salmon escapement results in 2010 were far below the respective recovery goals — at only 7% of the recovery target.

See the References below for details supporting the information presented above. For more information about local climate change impacts, see the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group. In addition, more detailed data is presented below for two of these indicators - Human Health and FEMA disasters:

Human Health and Heat Impacts

One climate change relevant indicator relates to heat impacts to human health. In King County observations indicate increasing human mortality due to increasing heat events and an upward trend of local air temperatures. In the greater Seattle area, between 1980 and 2006 mortality rates for all non-traumatic causes, circulatory causes and respiratory causes increased, and were highest for persons 85 years of age or older. In the greater Seattle area, risk of death due to all non-traumatic causes and circulatory causes rose for the overall population aged 45 years and above beginning on day 1 of heat events, peaked on day 4, and declined slightly for days 5 and beyond (Jackson et al. 2010). Additionally, a significant increase in hospitalizations for King County citizens has been observed with increasing temperatures, especially for the elderly (UW SPH. 2011).

Impacts-mortality-KC
Percent increase in mortality in King County for every degree increase above what feels like 96.3°F (Data reviewed from 1980-2006) (UW SPH. 2011).

FEMA Disasters

Another climate change relevant indicator is the number of flood, severe storm and coastal storm related FEMA federally declared disasters that occur in King County. These types of weather related federally declared disasters have been occurring more frequently over the last decade, and are related to climate change related risks such as flooding. However, it is important to consider that the frequency of natural disasters in King County is affected by many factors in addition to climate change - such as where people live and work and how prepared they are for storms.

Impacts-severe-storms
Raw, unedited data from FEMA's National Emergency Management Information System (NEMIS) (FEMA. 2012).

Other impacts on the local human health and economy that are related to climate change include:

  • Increases in number of restricted activity days for vulnerable populations due to increasing heat and air quality impacts;
  • Increases in damage to roads, rails, runways and private or public property due to flooding, sea level rise, salt water intrusion or storms;
  • Changes in human migration in or out of the area;
  • Decreases in farmland production and commercial and tribal harvesting of wild shellfish and fish resources;
  • Shortages in irrigation and drinking water supplies;
  • Increases in pests in forests and crops;
  • Shortages in irrigation and drinking water supplies;
  • Increases in summer hydropower and water supply demands;
  • Increases in viral activity (e.g. West Nile virus); waterborne and food borne illnesses; and
  • Increases in number of hospitalizations and emergency room visits due to heat or air quality stress.