All human societies have had to adapt to challenges created by climate change. No matter where people live, how they earn a living, what they eat, or how they access food and water, human health and well-being has been intricately connected to climate. The connection between protecting the natural environment and safeguarding human health has been recognized for a long time.
While shifts in climate have occurred throughout history, these changes have occurred very slowly and gradually, allowing humans and other life on earth to adapt. However, climate change is now occurring at a rapid rate—one that has never been experienced by life on earth. As the climate continues to change, more and more individuals are exposed to:
- Weather extremes (temperature extremes, storms, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, cyclones)
- Vector-born disease (such as Zika virus, malaria, and Lyme disease)
- Agricultural issues (such as poor soil and food quality, plant diseases)
- Air and water pollution
- Biological toxins (pesticides, herbicides)
- Decreased habitability of neighborhoods, especially in population centers (due to sea-level rise, violence, conflict)
- Increased hunger, famine, and displacement (especially in densely populated areas or those threatened by flooding)
Who Is at Risk?
Older adults and children are at a higher risk for the effects of climate change than other populations. Raising awareness about the vulnerability of these populations is important. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, there were more than 4,645 deaths in Puerto Rico attributed to the catastrophic event. The average age of those who left during the storm was 25 years, but those who stayed or died averaged 50 years of age. Older adults in Puerto Rico were especially vulnerable to the impact of the storm (Balbus, 2018; Zalon, 2019).
The following self-assessment tools may be helpful for individuals who are at-risk to find ways now to prepare for the health risks of climate change (Zalon, 2019):
- U. S. Climate Resilience Toolkit (https://toolkit.climate.gov)
- United National Climate Change Toolkit (https://unhabitat.org/books/climate-change-toolkit/)
- Climate Change and Extreme Heat: What You Can Do To Prepare (https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-10/documents/extreme-heat-guidebook.pdf)
- Diabetes Emergency Preparedness (https://www.diabeteseducator.org/living-with-diabetes/disaster-preparedness)
- American Red Cross Pet Disaster Preparedness (https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/pet-disaster-preparedness.html)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/features/older-adult-emergency/index.html)
What Can You Do?
In a world of more than seven billion people, each of us is a drop in the bucket.
But with enough drops, we can fill any bucket.
While many of the actions we take today can reduce future climate change consequences as well as address the health impacts of climate change that are already happening, acting now helps us realize the greatest health benefits today. The following are just some of the literally thousands of ways to reduce human-caused climate change:
- Consume less, waste less, and spend more time in nature.
- Don’t pollute. Think about how you dispose of waste, how much you recycle, and choose “clean, green” products when possible.
- Use less plastic. Choose products that are not shipped in, packaged in, or transported in plastic. Choose reusable shopping bags.
- Use energy wisely and choose renewable energy sources (such as solar and wind) whenever possible.
- “Green” your travel. Choose public transportation, ride a bike, fly less, and ride share.
- Change your diet. Eat for a climate-stable planet. Eat meat-free meals, and buy organic, sustainable, humanely-raised foods. Don’t waste food and try growing some of your own food.
- Reduce your carbon footprint. Think about the products you purchase, how far they have to travel for you to buy them, and choose more locally-sourced, locally produced products. Calculate and offset your emissions at climateneutralnow.org
- VOTE! Speak up, talk to friends and family, get active, educated, and involved in political discussions and activities. Vote with your wallet and at the ballot for products, foods, and legislators that support climate science, punish polluters, and vote for healthy climate initiative.
If you would like to learn more about how the environment and climate change can impact your health, check out our Certificate in Wellness and the Environment or you can enroll individually in the any of the four courses from the Certificate:
- Are Your Air and Water Safe? How Air and Water Quality Affect Health
- The Global Health Impacts of Overpopulation
- Human Health and Climate Change—Is There a Connection?
- Is Your Home Hazardous to Your Health?