It’s ironic that Representative Walter Jones Jr., a man who has religiously denied the science of climate change, represents the people in North Carolina most vulnerable to a changing climate, the 3rd Congressional District encompassing the Outer Banks and the Pamlico Sound. And not just vulnerable to the obvious storms and floods. Heat itself is an even greater threat.
Eight of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last ten years. The health effects of extreme heat include cramps, exhaustion, and death from heat stroke, cardiovascular and respiratory stress, and heart attack. The very young and the very old, the poor, and people who work outdoors are most vulnerable. The coastal counties have more people at risk than any other region in North Carolina.
A recent issue of the North Carolina Medical Journal included the article “Climate Change and Public Health through the Lens of Rural, Eastern North Carolina.” In that article the authors stated that “from 1992 to 2006, North Carolina had the highest annualized rate of heat-related deaths in the United States, the majority of which occurred within the ENC-41 region.” ENC-41 are the 41 counties that make up the coastal plain of North Carolina, east of Interstate 95.
North Carolina’s Rural Poor
As the heat continues to rise, poor people who live in substandard housing will be less able to afford the rising costs of electricity necessary to keep cool. People who work outdoors will be less able to avoid cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. And the entire population will suffer greater exposure to diseases that thrive in a warmer, wetter climate, diseases like Zika, West Nile Virus, Malaria, Lyme disease, and Dengue fever.
The Medical Journal article warns of “…serious challenges for rural populations in counties that have limited public health services such as mosquito control, environmental health, or a primary care clinic.” In other words, a significant percentage of Rep. Jones’ constituents.
Overwhelmingly, more counties in Eastern North Carolina have fewer primary care physicians than the state average. Again, from the Medical Journal. “On average, North Carolina has 8.6 primary care doctors (per 10,000 population), while 18 counties in the ENC-41 region reported fewer than 5 primary care doctors and 10 counties had fewer than 2.8. Two counties, Camden and Tyrell, had no (0) primary care physicians.”
Rep. Jones has taken a moral stand on other issues. We need him now to lead us against a threat to the well-being of all coastal North Carolina residents.