Report: Climate Change is Dangerous to Your Health

(Click through to the report for full size.)
(Click through to the report for full size.)

Climate change is not only bad for the environment and the planet, but it’s also bad for your — and your children’s — health.

It’s all connected, and at some level we know this, because, well, look out the window and read things besides right-wing, climate-denier talking points. But how serious are the health-related impacts?

Really, really serious, according to a 405-page draft climate and health assessment report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Consider a huge increase in the tick and mosquito populations, for one thing, along with increases in airborne and waterborne pathogens.

Climate change is threatening human health and well-being in many ways, say the authors of The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. The draft report, which is open for comment, was developed by the Global Change program’s Interagency Group on Climate Change and Human Health. It’s part of the sustained National Climate Assessment and was called for under the president’s Climate Action Plan.

The tone is set in the first paragraph of the report: “Climate change is a significant threat to the health of the American people.”

It continues: “The Third National Climate Assessment confirmed the evidence for human-induced climate change and described how impacts are increasing nationwide. Rising carbon dioxide concentrations, and the resulting increases in temperature, changes in precipitation, increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and sea level rise endanger our health by affecting our food and water sources, the air we breathe, the weather we experience, and our interactions with the built and natural environments. As the climate continues to change, the risks to human health continue to grow.”

Current and future impacts of climate change expose more people in more places to more public health threats. The report notes that in the U.S. we’ve already seen climate-related increases in “exposure to elevated temperatures; increases in the frequency, severity, or duration of certain extreme weather events; degraded air quality; diseases transmitted through food, water, and disease vectors (such as ticks and mosquitos); and stresses to our mental health and well-being.”

Nearly all of the threats will only get worse over time or at certain times of the year. In addition, people living in regions not previously exposed to these threats will also be exposed.

Here’s a taste of what’s in store for us:

  • Increases in temperature-related deaths: Future climate warming could lead to “thousands to tens of thousands additional deaths” each year from heat in the summer.
  • Rising temperatures, increasing precipitation and increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide are expected to contribute to increased levels of some airborne allergens and associated increases in asthma episodes and other allergic illnesses compared to a future without climate change.
  • Climate change is expected to alter the geographic and seasonal distributions of existing vectors and vectorborne diseases. Ticks and mosquitoes will become more numerous and widespread.
  • With respect to water, algal toxins will likely rise, and recreational waters and sources of drinking water will be compromised by “increasingly frequent and intense extreme precipitation events.”
  • Extreme weather events and storm surges will likely increase the risk of failure of, or damage to, water infrastructure for drinking water, wastewater and storm water.
  • Elevated sea surface temperatures and increases in certain weather extremes associated with climate change will increase human exposure to water contaminants in food, and will alter the incidence and distribution of pests, parasites and microbes.
  • Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will degrade the nutritional value of food crops, including wheat and rice.

Then there’s health impacts from projected increases in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme precipitation, hurricanes, coastal inundation, drought and wildfires in some regions of the United States. “Adverse health outcomes associated with exposure to extreme events include death, injury, or illness; exacerbation of underlying medical conditions; and adverse effects on mental health.”

When finalized, which is expected early next year, the report will provide some context and a baseline for understanding Americans’ changing health risks.

In short: The climate change prognosis on health in the U.S. is pretty bleak and getting bleaker.

Image: Illustration from the USGCRP draft report showing the links between Climate Change, Water Quantity and Quality, and Human Exposure to Water-related Illness

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