Federal Coordinating Lead Authors:
John M. Balbus, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
George Luber, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Chapter Lead:
Kristie L. Ebi, University of Washington
Chapter Authors:
Aparna Bole, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, Ohio
Allison Crimmins, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Gregory Glass, University of Florida
Shubhayu Saha, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Mark M. Shimamoto, American Geophysical Union
Juli Trtanj, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Jalonne L. White-Newsome, The Kresge Foundation
Review Editor:
David D'Onofrio, Atlanta Regional Commission
Technical Contributor:
Stasia Widerynski, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
USGCRP Coordinators:
Ashley Bieniek-Tobasco, Health Program Coordinator
Sarah Zerbonne, Adaptation and Decision Science Coordinator
Natalie Bennett, Adaptation and Assessment Analyst
Christopher W. Avery, Senior Manager

Human Health

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 (RCP4.5) compared to a higher scenario (RCP8.5). 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.


Vulnerable Populations

Examples of populations at higher risk of exposure to adverse climate-related health threats are shown along with adaptation measures that can help address disproportionate impacts. When considering the full range of threats from climate change as well as other environmental exposures, these groups are among the most exposed, most sensitive, and have the least individual and community resources to prepare for and respond to health threats. White text indicates the risks faced by those communities, while dark text indicates actions that can be taken to reduce those risks. From Figure 14.2 (Source: EPA).

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