Climate-related changes in weather patterns and associated changes in air, water, food, and the environment are affecting the health and well-being of the American people, causing injuries, illnesses, and death. Increasing temperatures, increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves (since the 1960s), changes in precipitation patterns (especially increases in heavy precipitation), and sea level rise can affect our health through multiple pathways. Changes in weather and climate can degrade air and water quality; affect the geographic range, seasonality, and intensity of transmission of infectious diseases through food, water, and disease-carrying vectors (such as mosquitoes and ticks); and increase stresses that affect mental health and well-being.
Changing weather patterns also interact with demographic and socioeconomic factors, as well as underlying health trends, to influence the extent of the consequences of climate change for individuals and communities. While all Americans are at risk of experiencing adverse climate-related health outcomes, some populations are disproportionately vulnerable.
The risks of climate change for human health are expected to increase in the future, with the extent of the resulting impacts dependent on the effectiveness of adaptation efforts and on the magnitude and pattern of future climate change. Individuals, communities, public health departments, health-related organizations and facilities, and others are taking action to reduce health vulnerability to current climate change and to increase resilience to the risks projected in coming decades.
The health benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions could result in economic benefits of hundreds of billions of dollars each year by the end of the century. Annual health impacts and health-related costs are projected to be approximately 50% lower under a lower scenario compared to a higher scenario. These estimates would be even larger if they included the benefits of health outcomes that are difficult to quantify, such as avoided mental health impacts or long-term physical health impacts.
Human Health: Key Messages
- Health Impacts
The health and well-being of Americans are already affected by climate change, with the adverse health consequences projected to worsen with additional climate change. Climate change affects human health by altering exposures to heat waves, floods, droughts, and other extreme events; vector-, food- and waterborne infectious diseases; changes in the quality and safety of air, food, and water; and stresses to mental health and well-being.
- Vulnerable Populations
People and communities are differentially exposed to hazards and disproportionately affected by climate-related health risks. Populations experiencing greater health risks include children, older adults, low-income communities, and some communities of color.
- Adaptation Benefits
Proactive adaptation policies and programs reduce the risks and impacts from climate-sensitive health outcomes and from disruptions in healthcare services. Additional benefits to health arise from explicitly accounting for climate change risks in infrastructure planning and urban design.
- Mitigation Benefits
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions would benefit the health of Americans in the near and long term. By the end of this century, thousands of American lives could be saved and hundreds of billions of dollars in health-related economic benefits gained each year under a pathway of lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The “Human Health” publication is available as a downloadable PDF at Link to Source…