How Does Climate Change Affect Human Health?

Climate Change refers to the long-term average temperature of Earth rising, as well as the effects of changing weather patterns on things we depend upon and value like water supply, transportation, energy, wildlife and crops. Climate change is also affecting ecosystems and human health in the short- to medium-term.

A warmer world means more extreme heat and more frequent heavy rains. These changes increase the risk of floods, droughts, and erosion. In some places, these events will cause loss of life and property.

The change is caused by a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mostly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. These gases trap some of the Sun’s heat and prevent it from escaping back into space, warming the planet. They are released into the air by human activities and, over time, they have increased to levels far above what occurred naturally in the past.

These changes are causing oceans to heat up faster than the land, melting ice sheets and altering sea levels. They are driving fish toward cooler waters and threatening commercial fishing and marine life. They are pushing species such as polar bears in the Arctic and marine turtles to find new habitats and shifting their migration patterns.

Warmer temperatures are increasing the spread of diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. As a result, more people are suffering from mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever. A warmer climate will also affect the geographic distribution of diseases such as cholera that require access to clean drinking water.

The most vulnerable communities will experience the biggest health impacts from climate change. These are typically poor, urban-based populations around the world that lack resources to respond to climate disasters or adapt to their impacts. They are also closely dependent on a thriving natural environment for food, income and protection from disease-carrying insects.

These populations are often ignored when it comes to tackling the problem of climate change, although even wealthier nations like the United States will experience significant health risks from it in the near future. Climate change impacts health in many different ways and the rate of impact will largely depend on how fast we can transition to cleaner sources of energy, stop disrupting the carbon cycle by clearing forests, and reduce the speed at which humans are releasing pollutants into the atmosphere. The international community has recognized that it is critical to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, or less. This will require rapid and profound transitions in everything from energy to land use, buildings to transportation, and agriculture to cities. This will be a huge undertaking but it is the only way to save our beautiful planet from climate disaster. Associated Press science and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Read our Disclosure Policy.

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