10 Things to Know About the New Report on Climate Change and Human Health

Posted by on April 5, 2016

The White House released a new report, “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment” this week that connects climate change to significant threats to the health of all Americans. We already know that climate change is causing increased temperatures, precipitation extremes, extreme weather events, and sea level rise. This new report, developed by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) and authored by representatives from federal agencies including the EPA and CDC, connects these climate drivers to adverse health impacts. Here are some of the key takeaways.

  1. Climate change threatens human health by affecting our air, water, and food.
  2. We can expect increases in cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, as well as vector-borne (Lyme disease) and foodborne (salmonella) infections and other gastrointestinal illnesses — all linked to elevated temperatures, prolonged heat waves, changing precipitation patterns, and more extreme weather events as a result of climate change.
  3. The report focuses on extreme heat; outdoor air quality; flooding; vector-borne infections; water-related infections; food-related infections; and mental health and well-being.
  4. Yes, mental health is also affected by climate change. The trauma of extreme weather events can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.
  5. The heat is on: This new assessment projects an increase of thousands to tens of thousands of premature deaths per year as a result of extreme heat patterns.
  6. Air quality is another serious concern. Higher temperatures and changing weather patterns are polluting the air by adversely affecting our ozone in urban areas, where we can expect more premature deaths and an increase in chronic and acute cardiovascular and respiratory symptoms. Then there is the expectation of more emissions of particulate matter and ozone-forming pollutants from wildfires, which are becoming more frequent and more severe as a result of climate change.
  7. Water-related illnesses caused by bacteria, viruses, and protozoa will increase with more runoff from extreme precipitation events.
  8. Every American is vulnerable to health impacts of climate change, but some are more vulnerable than others, including the young and old, those with chronic illnesses, those who are socially isolated and economically disadvantaged, as well as some communities of color.
  9. While this is not a what-if report — we are already facing health consequences of climate change today — we can minimize escalating health impacts by taking effective and concerted efforts to mitigate climate change.
  10. Next steps: engaging the next generation of public health professionals with tools to understand and educate the general public.