People joke that Minnesota would welcome global warming.
But beyond the obvious doomsday predictions, officials say that climate change could affect residents' health in unexpected ways. On Tuesday, Minnesota won a federal grant, along with seven other states and two cities, to prepare themselves.
The Minnesota Department of Health will receive $238,000 a year, for three years, as part of a $5.25 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Minnesota project will focus on the seven-county metro area.
What are the health risks in Minnesota?
Climate change could result in more deadly heat waves, and increase the risk of diseases spread by insects and flooding, according to federal and state projections. Among other things, it could affect where and when ticks spread Lyme disease. Globally, diseases like malaria -- typically confined to warm areas -- could spread to new areas. Changes in air quality could exacerbate asthma and chronic lung disease.
What can Minnesota do to defend itself?
One practical step is to ensure that there's help for vulnerable people, such as the elderly, during heat waves, says Dan Symonik, environmental health supervisor at the health department. That could include creating "cooling centers" where people without air conditioning can find refuge. "Our population and our housing is kind of vulnerable to extreme heat," he said. "We kind of build our houses to stay warm, not to stay cool."
What about Lyme disease?
Climate change could be good news -- or bad -- for Minnesotans when it comes to Lyme disease. It could extend the season or make it more difficult for ticks to thrive here, depending on how things unfold, Symonik says. It could change where ticks thrive, and thus where people are most at risk. "The message is, it's probably going to be changing," he said. "Some of the things you thought you knew may not work anymore."
State health officials will work with local public health agencies and city planners to shape contingency plans.
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384