flooded street with palm treesAccording to the study, "health-related costs added at leastanother 26 percent to the national price tag for 2012 severeweather-related damages." (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Deniers, take note: ignoring, or paying only lip service to,climate change comes with a massive price tag—in lives and inmoney.

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According to a new study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and theUniversity of California, San Francisco, published in the journalGeoHealth, the cost of climate change can be measuredin health issues—and in billions, not millions, of dollars. In 2012alone, it finds, Americans were on the hook for more than $10billion in health costs alone from 10 climate-sensitive events.

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Related: What does climate change mean for workersafety?

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And it's on track to get worse. That $10 billion isn't among thetallies totaled up by insurers and others of damages categorized asproperty, agriculture and infrastructure losses. Not counted aredeaths, hospitalizations, emergency department visits, outpatientmedical care, prescribed medications and lost wages associated withthose climate events.

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"Our research shows that health-related costs added at leastanother 26 percent to the national price tag for 2012 severeweather-related damages," lead study author Dr. Vijay Limaye, ascientist in NRDC's Science Center, said in a statement, And that's only one year. As 50-year, 100-year and even 500-yearweather events become more common, that toll will onlyincrease.

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The study reviewed the costs resulting from wildfires inColorado and Washington; ozone air pollution in Nevada; extremeheat in Wisconsin; infectious disease outbreaks of tick-borne Lymedisease in Michigan and mosquito-borne West Nile virus in Texas;extreme weather in Ohio; Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and NewYork; allergenic oak pollen in North Carolina; and harmful algalblooms on the Florida coast.

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In that one year, from those particular events, the results werestaggering, and the $10 billion-plus health-related costs went forabout 900 deaths, 21,000 hospitalizations, 18,000 emergency roomvisits and 37,000 outpatient encounters, breaking down as follows:wildfires, 419 premature deaths, 627 hospital admissions and $3.9billion in total health costs; West Nile, 89 premature deaths,1,628 hospital admissions and $1.1 billion in total health costs;ozone pollution, 97 premature deaths, 114 hospital admissions and$898 million in total health costs; and Hurricane Sandy, 273premature deaths, 6,602 hospital admissions and $3.1 billion intotal health costs.

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Medicare and Medicaid were on the hook for more than two thirdsof illness costs, according to the report's estimates, and that toowill only grow. In 2012 there were 11 billion-dollar weatherevents, but in 2016, 2017 and 2018, NOAA says there were more—andthose dollar totals do not include health care costs. Since botholder people and the economically disadvantaged are more vulnerablethan the general population, that total too will grow.

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"Our research signals that all told, there could be tens tohundreds of billions of dollars in health costs already from recentclimate-related exposures nationwide," study co-author Dr. KimKnowlton, senior scientist at NRDC, said in a statement, adding,"It's clear that failing to address climate change, and soon, willcost us a fortune, including irreversible damage to ourhealth."

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Limaye writes in his blog, "Strengthened climate preparednessdefinitely has a major role to play in helping Americans avoid theworst effects of climate change. But as this study suggests, inorder to avoid untold human suffering and staggering health costs,those efforts must be accompanied by aggressive actions to reduceemissions and decarbonize our economy…. We're going to have to payto deal with climate change one way or another. But we don't haveto pay for it in the form of illness, injuries, and lostlives."

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