Preparing for the health effects of climate change

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Why should I care?

Climate change and extreme weather events are threatening our health today, and if left unaddressed, will lead to increases in disease, injury and death. Immediate action can and must be taken to minimize the adverse health impacts of climate change and equip public health workers with the tools to protect our communities from negative health outcomes. 

Climate change raises major public health concerns:

1. Warmer weather exacerbates the risks of strokes, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and the spread of mosquito- and tick-borne diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. These risks are especially harmful for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children and people already living with chronic disease. Between 1999 and 2009, extreme heat exposure caused nearly 8,000 U.S. deaths and it’s only getting hotter. The World Meteorological Organization recently reported that 2011-2015 was the hottest five-year period on record.2

2. Changing climate also intensifies weather-related disasters like wildfires and floods that threaten public safety. Sadly, the health dangers of extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy don’t stop when the storm ends. Sandy killed 113 people and in its aftermath, countless more people lived in unhealthy conditions and suffered from mental health repercussions like anxiety and PTSD. 3

3. Climate change increases our exposure to harmful pollutants. Increased ground-level ozone is associated with impaired lung function as well as increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions for asthma. In addition, more frequent and intense wildfires can increase particulate matter exposure, which is linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and respiratory illness. 4

What can I do?

Tell Congress to uphold the Clean Air Act and reject any measure that would block or delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which will reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and help protect all of our communities from life-threatening air pollution from coal-fired power plants as well as the health impacts of climate change.

Annually, by reducing exposure to ozone and particle pollution, the Clean Power Plan will prevent up to 3,600 premature U.S. deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and the nation’s students and workers will miss 300,000 fewer school and work days by 2030. In the long-term, it will also slow down climate change and reduce the serious health risks of a warming planet.

You can also help by advocating for adequate funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Climate and Health Program, which provides critical guidance, technical support and funding to help prepare for and protect the nation from the harmful impacts of climate change.

1 The White House: The Health Impacts of Climate Change on Americans, June 2014

2 World Meteorological Organization

3 NIH: Mental Health Effects of Hurricane Sandy

4 The White House: The Health Impacts of Climate Change on Americans, June 2014