Increasingly dangerous shifts in climate worldwide — including an unprecedented national number of extreme weather events last year such as fatal heat waves, droughts, floods and snowstorms — are threatening the livelihoods of local communities everywhere. Fortunately, public health professionals are educating the public on how to prepare for and counteract the hazards of these life-threatening changes, with calls to action that could save countless lives.

More than 1,160 registrants tuned in Wednesday for the second installment of a webinar series presented by APHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Scientist Kim Knowlton and Richard Jackson, professor and chair of environmental health science at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health. The latest episode, “A Look at the Health Costs of Climate Change and Co-Benefits of Climate Action,” was moderated by CDC’s George Luber.

“Climate change is a game-changer,” Knowlton said. “The consequences of under-reacting are severe. … The good news is that preparedness pays off in big ways.”

Knowlton first presented numbers showing disturbing trends in the changing global climate, with statistics on temperature rise; health effects; and specific costs. According to Knowlton, six U.S. climate disasters were “$14 billion events” in health-related costs from 2002-2009. More than 760,000 health care encounters resulted from the incidents.

“Mitigation and adaptation,” Knowlton said, denotes the solution to more resilient communities. Specifically, Knowlton supported the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants.

Simple and drastic lifestyle changes would save lives, Jackson said, adding that more than 80 percent of Americans believe climate change is a reality and climate-related mortality has experienced drastic growth since 2000.

“A good solution solves multiple problems,” Jackson said. “It’s extremely important that we focus on our future leaders.”

Jackson looked to the future, calling not recycling “child abuse,” and stating that public health and medical advocates are much more influential than environmentalists and can be highly credible proponents for action on climate change.

As for solutions, he said trains should be utilized more than cars — they are both much safer and energy efficient, and minimized dependence on automobiles could have social benefits, such as a lower prevalence of obesity. Jackson also supports solar paneling and net metering for houses, with benefits including reduced flooding in urban areas and more cost-effective electricity.

The webinar series began in 2009 in collaboration with the National Association of County and City Health Officials, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Society for Public Health Education and National Environmental Health Assocaition. Six sessions have been translated into a practical guidebook available here.

The Feb. 24 webinar looked into climate change policies and practices, with commentary from APHA’s Georges Benjamin and CDC’s Christopher Portier.