How Climate Change Is Hurting Our Health


Even before the presidential election, predictions on how climate change would deepen its impact on our health were somewhat dire.

Now, “many scientists and activists despair that [a Trump administration] will do anything meaningful to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases that are heating up the planet,” says Linda Marsa, author of Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health. “If we do nothing, we may have runaway climate change, leading to more killer heat waves, floods and droughts, epidemics of vector-borne diseases, and deadly air pollution.”

Donald Trump has called climate change a Chinese-created hoax and said that he would renege on the 2015 Paris Agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. And last week, President-Elect Trump nominated Scott Pruitt, who may not believe in climate change, to head up the EPA. In addition to putting the health of the planet at extreme risk, climate change also puts the health of the country at risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created the Climate and Public Health Framework in 2006, now called the Climate and Health Program. But CDC employees have told public radio that they are worried about job security and funding under the Trump administration.

“Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, threats to mental health, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease-carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks,” a CDC spokesperson said before the election.

Here are five of the biggest reasons climate change and health experts can’t sleep at night:

Infectious diseases: Many insects that spread infectious disease are spreading their reach due to new climate conditions — Zika is just the latest example. Lyme disease has also soared as tick populations are increasing in about half of U.S. counties.

Air pollution: Dirty air is obviously bad for asthma, but “we’re just starting to put our arms around just how lethal it is,” Marsa says. Air pollution has been linked to lung diseases, and there’s even a possible link to dementia. Plus, rising temperatures exacerbate poor air quality because they “cook the pollutants in the atmosphere and smog,” creating a chemical reaction, Marsa explains.

Drought: The effect of drought on agriculture is obvious; less clear but equally devastating is how that leads to food insecurity and shortages. Researchers have shown that the conflict in Syria was indirectly worsened by drought.

Increased health inequalities: As the mercury climbs, the divide between energy ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ deepens, Marsa says. An examination of Chicago’s heat wave in 1995 showed that people of color and the elderly were most vulnerable. As people install air conditioning in areas that have never needed it, energy grids become taxed and vulnerable to breakdown. Higher temperatures may also drive energy costs higher, Marsa points out — making it harder for people living in poverty to access cool temperatures.

Natural disasters: Many natural disasters have been linked to climate change, and the fallout is twofold, Marsa says: Yes, many people die during the natural disasters, but the aftermath can also be deadly. Disease outbreaks and collapses of public health systems, for example, can continue the death toll long after the initial threat passes.

For more on how climate change threatens health — and what you can do — check out the below links:

https://www.nrdc.org/resources/climate-change-threatens-health
http://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/
http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/programs/geh/climatechange/health_impacts/
https://ncse.com/library-resource/supporting-climate-change-education
https://350.org/

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred writes about health and fitness for a variety of publications. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Outside.com, Discovery News, Pacific Standard and Runner's World, among others. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism and a former newspaper reporter. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two kids.