Climate Change and Health
Climate change threatens human health and well-being in the United States. The U.S. Global Change Research Program conducted a Climate and Health Assessment in order to enhance understanding and inform decisions surrounding this growing threat. According to the executive summary, as the climate continues to change, the risks to human health will grow, increasing existing health threats and creating new public health challenges.
Every American is Vulnerable
Every American is vulnerable to the health impacts associated with climate change. Increased exposure to multiple health threats, along with decreased ability to adapt to those threats, increases a person’s vulnerability to climate-related health effects. Some populations, however, are more vulnerable, including those with low income, some communities of color, immigrant groups, indigenous peoples, children, pregnant women, older adults, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease. (1)
With climate change, the frequency, severity, duration, and location of weather and climate phenomena, like rising temperatures, heavy rains, and droughts are increasing. Those in areas experiencing health-threatening weather, such as severe heat or hurricanes, are likely to experience worsening impacts. This could mean higher temperatures, increased storm intensity, rainfall, and storm surge. It also means that some locations will experience new climate-related health threats. For example, areas with cooler water temperatures may see an increase in toxic algae blooms or waterborne diseases as the water temperature increases.
Cardiovascaual Disease and Climate
For those with cardiovascular disease, temperature extremes can be a problem. Increased hospital admissions are association with prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Likewise, changes in air quality can negatively impact the cardiovascular system. Climate change is also projected to increase the number and severity of naturally occurring wildfires in parts of the United States. The rising incidence of wildfires and decreasing precipitation will lead to increases in ozone and particulate matter, which increases the risks of cardiovascular illnesses and death. Changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, and higher frequency of extreme weather events can also influence vector-borne diseases, which are transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes. These diseases generally bear more risks for those with cardiovascular disorders.
Climate change impacts can be widespread. Food safety, nutrition, and distribution could be affected by disruptions in food availability and decreased access to food. Physical health can also be impacted by changes in fitness and activity levels. Stress, anxiety, depression, grief, and a sense of loss along with strains of social relationships and post-traumatic stress disorder are mental health problems that can occur. Vulnerable groups of people, such as those with cardiovascular disease, can experience disproportionate and complex risks to their health and well-being in response to climate change.
Climate change harms our water supply, air quality, food supply, and mental health and increases the occurrence of vector-borne diseases and extreme weather events. Addressing these concerns should be every nurse’s responsibility. We are the most trusted profession and we have a unique opportunity to engage and educate the public on health issues. There are many ways we can be influential. As nurses focused on prevention, we should call for and work toward climate solutions that will protect and promote health in our communities. (2) To this end, PCNA is proud to have joined the Nursing Collaborative on Climate Change and Health to elevate climate change as a visible health priority.
- The U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate and Health Assessment, /health2016.globalchange.gov/, accessed 9/28/2018
- Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments www.envirn.org/nursing-collaborative, accessed 9/28/2018