Human Health

​Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including through more extreme weather events and wildfire, decreased air quality, and diseases transmitted by insects, food, and water. 

Climate change is increasing the risks of respiratory stress from poor air quality, heat stress, and the spread of food-borne, insect-borne, and waterborne diseases. Extreme weather events often lead to fatalities and a variety of health impacts on vulnerable populations, including impacts on mental health, such as anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Large-scale changes in the environment due to climate change and extreme weather events are increasing the risk of the emergence or reemergence of health threats that are currently uncommon in the United States, such as dengue fever. 

Key weather and climate drivers of health impacts include increasingly frequent, intense, and longer-lasting extreme heat, which worsens drought, wildfire, and air pollution risks; increasingly frequent extreme precipitation, intense storms, and changes in precipitation patterns that can lead to flooding, drought, and ecosystem changes; and rising sea levels that intensify coastal flooding and storm surge, causing injuries, deaths, stress due to evacuations, and water quality impacts, among other effects on public health. 

Multiple Benefits
Policies and other strategies intended to reduce carbon pollution and mitigate climate change can often have independent influences on human health. For example, reducing CO2 emissions through renewable electrical power generation can reduce air pollutants like particles and sulfur dioxide. Efforts to improve the resiliency of communities and human infrastructure to climate change impacts can also improve human health. There is a growing recognition that the magnitude of health “co-benefits,” like reducing both pollution and cardiovascular disease, could be significant, both from a public health and an economic standpoint.

Innovative urban design could create increased access to active transport (such as walking and biking). The compact geographical area found in cities presents opportunities to reduce energy use and emissions of heat-trapping gases and other air pollutants through active transit, improved building construction, provision of services, and infrastructure creation, such as bike paths and sidewalks. Urban planning strategies designed to reduce the urban heat island effect, such as green/cool roofs, increased green space, parkland, and urban canopy, could reduce indoor temperatures and improve indoor air quality, and could also produce additional societal co-benefits by promoting social interaction and prioritizing vulnerable urban populations.

Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Highlights of Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, pp. 34–37, Print.