You are on page 1of 10

Effects of Climate Change to Human

- The impacts of climate change include warming temperatures, changes in precipitation,

increases in the frequency or intensity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea
levels. These impacts threaten our health by affecting the food we eat, the water we drink,
the air we breathe, and the weather we experience.

- The severity of these health risks will depend on the ability of public health and safety
systems to address or prepare for these changing threats, as well as factors such as an
individual's behavior, age, gender, and economic status. Impacts will vary based on a where
a person lives, how sensitive they are to health threats, how much they are exposed to
climate change impacts, and how well they and their community are able to adapt to

- People in developing countries may be the most vulnerable to health risks globally, but
climate change poses significant threats to health even in wealthy nations such as the
United States. Certain populations, such as children, pregnant women, older adults, and
people with low incomes, face increased risks; see the section below on Populations of

Temperature-Related Impacts

- Warmer average temperatures will lead to hotter days and more frequent and longer heat
waves. These changes will lead to an increase in heat-related deaths—reaching as much as
thousands to tens of thousands of additional deaths each year by the end of the century
during summer months.

- These deaths will not be offset by the smaller reduction in cold-related deaths projected in
the winter months. However, adaptive responses, such as wider use of air conditioning, are
expected to reduce the projected increases in death from extreme heat.

- Exposure to extreme heat can lead to heat stroke and dehydration, as well as cardiovascular,
respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease. Excessive heat is more likely to affect populations
in northern latitudes where people are less prepared to cope with excessive temperatures.
Certain types of populations are more vulnerable than others: for example, outdoor
workers, student athletes, and homeless people tend to be more exposed to extreme heat
because they spend more time outdoors. Low-income households and older adults may
lack access to air conditioning which also increases exposure to extreme heat. Additionally,
young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with certain medical conditions
are less able to regulate their body temperature and can therefore be more vulnerable to
extreme heat. Human Health Risks in Your State

- Our interactive map features climate-related health risks by state and actions you can take
to reduce these risks.

- Urban areas are typically warmer than their rural surroundings. Large metropolitan areas
such as St. Louis, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Cincinnati have seen notable increases in
death rates during heat waves.[2] Climate change is projected to increase the vulnerability
of urban populations to heat-related health impacts in the future. Heat waves are also often
accompanied by periods of stagnant air, leading to increases in air pollution and associated
health effects.

Air Quality Impacts

- Changes in the climate affect the air we breathe both indoors and outdoors. Warmer
temperatures and shifting weather patterns can worsen air quality, which can lead to
asthma attacks and other respiratory and cardiovascular health effects. Wildfires, which
are expected to continue to increase in number and severity as the climate changes, create
smoke and other unhealthy air pollutants. Rising carbon dioxide levels and warmer
temperatures also affect airborne allergens, such as ragweed pollen.

- Despite significant improvements air quality since the 1970s, as of 2014 about 57 million
lived in counties that did not meet national air quality standards. Climate change may
make it even harder for states to meet these standards in the future, exposing more people
to unhealthy air.

Changes in Allergens and Asthma Triggers

- Allergic illnesses, including hay fever, affect about one-third of the population, and more
than 34 million people have been diagnosed with asthma. Climate change may affect
allergies and respiratory health. The spring pollen season is already occurring earlier for
certain types of plants, and the length of the season has increased for some plants with
highly allergenic pollen such as ragweed. In addition to lengthening the ragweed pollen
season, rising carbon dioxide concentrations and temperatures may also lead to earlier
flowering, more flowers, and increased pollen levels in ragweed.

Impacts from Extreme Weather Events

- Increases in the frequency or severity of some extreme weather events, such as extreme
precipitation, flooding, droughts, and storms, threaten the health of people during and after
the event. The people most at risk include young children, older adults, people with
disabilities or medical conditions, and the poor. Extreme events can affect human health.

- Interrupting communication, utility, and health care services.

- Contributing to carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of portable electric

generators during and after storms.

- Increasing stomach and intestinal illness, particularly following power outages.

Creating or worsening mental health impacts such as depression and post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD).

Vectorborne Diseases
- Vectorborne diseases are illnesses that are transmitted by disease vectors, which include
mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas. These vectors can carry infectious pathogens, such as viruses,
bacteria, and protozoa, from animals to humans. Changes in temperature, precipitation, and
extreme events increases the geographic range of diseases spread by vectors and can lead
to illnesses occurring earlier in the year.

- As air temperatures rise, ticks are likely to become active earlier in the season, and their
range is likely to continue to expand northward. Typical symptoms of Lyme
disease include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash.

- Mosquitoes thrive in certain climate conditions and can spread diseases like West Nile
virus. Extreme temperatures—too cold, hot, wet, or dry—influence the location and
number of mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus. The spread of climate-sensitive
diseases will depend on both climate and non-climate factors such as land use,
socioeconomic and cultural conditions, pest control, access to health care, and human
responses to disease risk. The United States has public health infrastructure and programs
to monitor, manage, and prevent the spread of many diseases. The risks for climate-
sensitive diseases can be much higher in poorer countries that have less capacity to prevent
and treat illness.[8]

Water-Related Illnesses

- People can become ill if exposed to contaminated drinking or recreational water. Climate
change increases the risk of illness through increasing temperature, more frequent heavy
rains and runoff, and the effects of storms. Health impacts may include gastrointestinal
illness like diarrhea, effects on the body's nervous and respiratory systems, or liver and
kidney damage.

- Climate impacts can affect exposure to waterborne pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and
parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia); toxins produced by harmful algal and
cyanobacterial blooms in the water; and chemicals that end up in water from human

- Changing water temperatures mean that waterborne Vibrio bacteria and harmful algal
toxins will be present in the water or in seafood at different times of the year, or in places
where they were not previously threats.

- Runoff and flooding resulting from increases in extreme precipitation, hurricane rainfall,
and storm surge will increasingly contaminate water bodies used for recreation (such as
lakes and beaches), shellfish harvesting waters, and sources of drinking water.

- Extreme weather events and storm surges can damage or exceed the capacity of water
infrastructure (such as drinking water or wastewater treatment plants), increasing the risk
that people will be exposed to contaminants.

- Water resource, public health, and environmental agencies in the United States provide
many public health safeguards to reduce risk of exposure and illness even if water becomes
contaminated. These include water quality monitoring, drinking water treatment standards
and practices, beach closures, and issuing advisories for boiling drinking water and
harvesting shellfish.

Food Safety and Nutrition

Climate change and the direct impacts of higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere are expected to affect food safety and nutrition. Extreme weather events can also
disrupt or slow the distribution of food.

- Higher air temperatures can increase cases of Salmonella and other bacteria-related food
poisoning because bacteria grow more rapidly in warm environments. These diseases can
cause gastrointestinal distress and, in severe cases, death. Practices to safeguard food can
help avoid these illnesses even as the climate changes.
- Climate change will have a variety of impacts that may increase the risk of exposure to
chemical contaminants in food. For example, higher sea surface temperatures will lead to
higher mercury concentrations in seafood, and increases in extreme weather events will
introduce contaminants into the food chain through storm water runoff.
- Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air can act as a "fertilizer" for some plants,
but lowers the levels of protein and essential minerals in crops such as wheat, rice, and
potatoes, making these foods less nutritious.
- Extreme events, such as flooding and drought, create challenges for food distribution if
roads and waterways are damaged or made inaccessible.

Mental Health

Any changes in a person's physical health or surrounding environment can also have serious
impacts on their mental health. In particular, experiencing an extreme weather event can cause
stress and other mental health consequences, particularly when a person loses loved ones or their
- Individuals with mental illness are especially vulnerable to extreme heat; studies have
found that having a pre-existing mental illness tripled the risk of death during heat
waves. People taking medication for mental illness that makes it difficult to regulate their
body temperature are particularly at risk.
- Even the perceived threat of climate change (for example from reading or watching news
reports about climate change) can influence stress responses and mental health.
- Some groups of people are at higher risk for mental health impacts, such as children and
older adults, pregnant and post-partum women, people with pre-existing mental illness (see
above), people with low incomes, and emergency workers.

Effects of Climate Change to Animals

- Climate change will have significant effects on the health of wildlife, domestic animals,
and humans, according to scientists. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
projects that unprecedented rates of climate change will result in increasing average global
temperatures; rising sea levels; changing global precipitation patterns, including increasing
amounts and variability; and increasing midcontinental summer drought
(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007).
- Increasing temperatures, combined with changes in rainfall and humidity, may have
significant impacts on wildlife, domestic animal, and human health and diseases. When
combined with expanding human populations, these changes could increase demand on
limited water resources, lead to more habitat destruction, and provide yet more
opportunities for infectious diseases to cross from one species to another. Awareness has
been growing in recent years about zoonotic diseases— that is, diseases that are
transmissible between animals and humans, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus.
The rise of such diseases results from closer relationships among wildlife, domestic
animals, and people, allowing more contact with diseased animals, organisms that carry
and transmit a disease from one animal to another (vectors), and people.
- Disease vectors include insects, such as mosquitoes, and arachnids, such as ticks. Thus, it
is impossible to separate the effects of global warming on wildlife from its effects on the
health of domestic animals or people (fig. 1). Climate change, habitat destruction and
urbanization, the introduction of exotic and invasive species, and pollution—all affect
ecosystem and human health.
- Climate change can also be viewed within the context of other physical and climate cycles,
such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (El Niño), the North Atlantic Oscillation, and
cycles in solar radiation that have profound effects on the Earth’s climate. The effects of
climate change on wildlife disease are summarized in several areas of scientific study
discussed briefly below: geographic range and distribution of wildlife diseases, plant and
animal phenology (Walther and others, 2002), and patterns of wildlife disease, community
and ecosystem composition, and habitat degradation.

Geographic Range and Distribution of Wildlife Diseases

- In the Northern Hemisphere, global warming has likely played a role in geographic shifts
of disease vectors and parasitic diseases that have complex life cycles. For example, the
black-legged tick, which carries and transmits Lyme disease and several other tick-borne
zoonotic diseases.
- Scientists also expect changes in disease distribution with changes in altitude. For example,
climate warming may lead to year-round transmission of mosquito-borne avian malaria at
higher elevations in the Hawaiian Islands, further threatening endangered native Hawaiian
birds that have little or no resistance to the introduced disease. Currently, on the island of
Hawai’i, avian malaria, caused by the parasite Plasmodium relictum, is limited to warmer
elevations below 1,500 meters
- If the higher elevations become warmer as projected, mosquito activity and parasite
development in these areas will increase. Conservationists are concerned that climate
change may lead to increased avian malaria transmission throughout the year at
increasingly higher elevations.

Community and Ecosystem Changes

- Determining the effects of climate change on communities and ecosystems is difficult

because the effects are likely to be highly variable, and this may be especially true for
marine ecosystems. Since the 1980s, coral reefs in the Western Atlantic have suffered
massive declines due to disease
- It is likely that coral mortalities were initially due to widespread mortality of sea urchins,
which allowed algal overgrowth of reefs, followed by environmental degradation and
increased coral susceptibility to disease (Lessios, 1988). Since the early 1980s, mass “coral
bleaching” has been observed worldwide, especially following the major 1998 El Niño
event, and it has been linked to higher sea-surface temperatures (Hoegh-Guldberg, 1999)
and to rising carbon dioxide levels that increase acidification of the oceans, which further
weakens the coral structure (Kleypas and Yates, 2009). Corals are able to survive in
nutrient-deficient waters because corals and the photosynthetic algae that live on them
support each other. Corals that have lost these algae due to increased water temperature,
changes in salinity or pollution may be susceptible to disease, leaving white coral skeletons,
referred to as “coral bleaching”
- Elevated temperatures will likely increase coral bleaching, which can lead to coral die-offs
(Baker and others, 2008). Corals that fail to recover sufficiently may lead to loss of coral
reefs and associated tropical marine life that depend on them for food and shelter. Coral
bleaching has already been associated with significant declines in the diversity and
population size of reef fish (Jones and others, 2004; Wilson and others, 2006). Coral
bleaching and declines in the physical integrity of reef systems also are anticipated to lead
to further reductions in the complexity of coral reef ecosystems (Pratchett and others,
2008). As a result, local economies that depend on coral reefs for sustenance or tourism
could be significantly affected by climate change.

Habitat Alteration

- Climate change has caused dramatic changes in several macro- and microhabitats on Earth.
While wildlife species are likely to be adaptable, within their physiological limits, in
dealing with direct impacts of climate change on temperature and precipitation, their ability
to respond to major physical changes in their environment, short of migration, is more
limited. Along the Antarctic Peninsula, populations of Adelie Penguins are declining,
because coastal ice no longer persists through the winter in many locations. In Antarctica,
the Adelie Penguin is commonly a coastal bird found in areas where sea ice persists
throughout the winter, because it relies on sea ice for access to feeding areas where
upwelling ocean currents contain many krill and fish. Climate change is also having a
detrimental effect on microhabitats. Amphibian and reptilian populations have declined in
the lowland forests in Costa Rica in part through the effect of climate change on the humid
leaf litter microhabitat of the forest floor (Whitfield and others, 2007). Weather conditions
also significantly affect the microclimates for nests and burrows. For example, in sea
turtles, elevated temperatures may lead to altered sex ratios or loss of nesting beaches
secondary to sea level rises. Temperatures outside the range of those that turtles can tolerate
result in the death of the developing sea turtle embryos.

Example of Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gases are a hot topic (pun intended) when it comes to global warming. These gases
absorb heat energy emitted from Earth’s surface and reradiate it back to the ground. In this way,
they contribute to the greenhouse effect, which keeps the planet from losing all of its heat from
the surface at night. The concentrations of various greenhouse gases in the atmosphere determine
how much heat is absorbed by the atmosphere and reradiated back to the surface. Human
activities—especially fossil-fuel combustion since the Industrial Revolution—are responsible for
steady increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The five most
significant gases are presented here.

Water vapor

- the most potent of the greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, and it’s sort of a unique
player among the greenhouse gases. The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere
cannot, in general, be directly modified by human behavior—it’s set by air temperatures.
The warmer the surface, the greater the evaporation rate of water from the surface. As a
result, increased evaporation leads to a greater concentration of water vapor in the lower
atmosphere capable of absorbing infrared radiation and emitting it downward.

Carbon dioxide

- the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most prominent. Sources of
atmospheric CO2 include volcanoes, the combustion and decay of organic matter,
respiration by aerobic (oxygen-using) organisms, and the burning of fossil fuels, clearing
of land, and production of cement by humans. These sources are balanced, on average, by
a set of physical, chemical, or biological processes, called "sinks," that tend to remove
CO2from the atmosphere. Plant life, which takes up CO2 during the process of
photosynthesis, is an important natural sink. In the oceans, marine life can absorb
dissolved CO2, and some marine organisms even use CO2 to build skeletons and other
structures made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3).


Methane (CH4) is the second most important greenhouse gas. It is more potent than CO2, but
exists in far lower concentrations in the atmosphere. CH4 also hangs around in the atmosphere
for a shorter time than CO2—the residence time for CH4 is roughly 10 years, compared with
hundreds of years for CO2. Natural sources of methane include many wetlands, methane-
oxidizing bacteria that feed on organic material consumed by termites, volcanoes, seepage vents
of the seafloor in regions rich with organic sediment, and methane hydrates trapped along the
continental shelves of the oceans and in polar permafrost. The primary natural sink for methane
is the atmosphere itself; another natural sink is soil, where methane is oxidized by bacteria.
As with CO2, human activity is increasing the CH4 concentration faster than it can be offset by
natural sinks. Human sources (rice cultivation, livestock farming, the burning of coal and natural
gas, biomass combustion, and decomposition in landfills) currently account for approximately 70
percent of total annual emissions, leading to substantial increases in concentration over time.

Surface-level ozone


next most significant greenhouse gas is surface, or low-level, ozone (O3). Surface O3 is a result
of air pollution; it must be distinguished from naturally occurring stratospheric O3, which has a
very different role in the planetary radiation balance. The primary natural source of surface O3 is
the subsidence of stratospheric O3 from the upper atmosphere toward Earth’s surface. In contrast,
the primary human-driven source of surface O3 is in photochemical reactions involving carbon
monoxide (CO), such as in smog.
Nitrous oxides and fluorinated gases

Additional trace gases produced by industrial activity that have greenhouse properties include
nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases (halocarbons). The latter includes sulfur hexafluoride,
hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Nitrous oxides have small background
concentrations due to natural biological reactions in soil and water, whereas the fluorinated gases
owe their existence almost entirely to industrial sources.