The science is clear: climate change is an environmental issue, and a serious threat to our public health. The evidence that human activity and expansion is the main cause of climate change is stronger than ever.
Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil, increase the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere, thus changing the Earth’s natural atmospheric greenhouse. [i] According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), shown in the graphic above, climate change will affect air pollution, vector-borne diseases, allergens, water quality, water and food supply, environmental deterioration, extreme heat, and severe weather. All of these changes are a serious threat to health. [ii]
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), warmer temperatures could increase the concentrations of unhealthy air and water pollutants. Along with these, the environmental consequences of climate change, which are already occurring, include heat waves, changes in precipitation (flooding and drought), more intense storms, and worsening air quality. [i]
The direct damage cost to health caused by climate change (not including factors that affect health such as agriculture, water, and sanitation) is estimated to be between 2 to 4 billion dollars per year by 2030. [iii]
By reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transportation, food, and energy-use, we can reduce the impact of climate change on health and reduce the amount of air pollution. [iii]
Impact of Climate Change on People with Asthma
Climate change is a huge threat to respiratory health by directly causing or aggravating pre-existing respiratory diseases and increasing exposure to risk factors for respiratory diseases. [iv]
Current data suggests that air pollution can cause asthma. Climate change increases water and air pollution which can cause and aggravate chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma. [iv]
Increased temperatures due to climate change lead to increased ground-level ozone, which cause airway inflammation and damages lung tissue. [v]
Ground-level ozone, or “bad ozone”, can be the most harmful for people living with asthma. Ground-level ozone is created by a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxide and organic compounds when exposed to sunlight. These can include emissions from industrial facilities, motor vehicle exhaust, and gasoline fumes. Ground-level ozone is very likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot sunny days in urban environments and is a major component in urban smog, a type of air pollution.
The populations most vulnerable to ground-level ozone are children, the elderly, people with lung disease, or people who are actively outdoors. Children are at the greatest risk to ground-level ozone, and are more likely than adults to have asthma. Unhealthy spikes in ground-level ozone pollution correspond with increases in emergency room visits and hospitalizations for people with asthma. [vi]
Impact of Climate Change on People with Allergies
Between 1995 and 2011, warmer temperatures have caused the US pollen season to increase around the country to be 11 to 27 days longer. [vii]
Warmer temperatures from climate change cause flowers to bloom earlier and increase the amount of carbon dioxide emitted. These changes in temperatures cause an increase in the concentration of pollen in the air, the strength of airborne allergens, and an increase in allergy symptoms. Exposure to stronger amounts of pollen and mold may make people that do not currently have allergies develop allergic symptoms. [viii]
Climate change causes some allergen-producing plants to move into new areas, and winds can carry pollen and mold from outside the United States. [viii]
People that live with asthma and allergies can do a few things to reduce risks and the impacts of climate change. The EPA suggests that to reduce the health risks caused by climate change ask your doctor for advice on how to avoid places or situations that can cause an asthma attack or an allergic reaction. Also, before leaving your home, check the Air Quality Index (AQI), which shows how polluted the air is in your area. On days when the AQI is high, you should try to limit your outdoor activities. To find out what the AQI is in your area click here. The EPA has listed on their website actions you can take at home, at work, at school, and on the road to help fight climate change.
For more information:
2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change Report
This report maps out the impacts of climate change, and the necessary policy responses, to ensure the highest achievable standards of health worldwide.
EPA’s Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action
This report estimates the physical and monetary benefits to the United States of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. This report shows that global action on climate change will significantly benefit Americans by saving lives and avoiding costs.
National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences Climate Change and Human Health Program
This program lists the goals and actions to be taken to lessen climate change and protect public health.
Health Impacts of Climate Change on Americans
A White House report which describes the health impacts of climate change and the actions we must take to improve the health of our communities.
President Obama’s Action Plan on Climate Change
This is a fact sheet detailing President Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution, prepare the US for the impact of climate change, and lead international efforts to address global climate change.
Obama Administration Announcement to Protect Communities from the Impacts of Climate Change
The Obama administration announced a series of actions that will allow the US to better understand, communicate, and reduce the health impacts of climate change on communities.
[i] Environmental Protection Agency. Climate Change. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basics/
[ii] Center for Disease Control. National Center for Environmental Health: Climate Effects on Health. 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/default.htm
[iii] World Health Organization. Climate change and health. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs266/en/
[v] Amato G, Cagani Ca, Cecchi L, etc. Climate change, air pollution, and extreme events leading to increasing prevalence of allergic respiratory diseases. Multidisciplinary Respiratory Medicine.2013:12http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3598823/pdf/2049-6958-8-12.pdf
[vi] Environmental Protection Agency. Ground Level Ozone. http://www.epa.gov/groundlevelozone/index.html
[vii] A National Environmental Education Foundation Program. Climate Change and Health. http://www.neefusa.org/pdf/Climate_Change_and_Health_Fact_Sheet.pdf