Background: The accelerating accumulation of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere is changing global environmental conditions in unprecedented and potentially irreversible ways. Climate change poses a host of challenges to the health of populations through complex direct and indirect mechanisms. The direct effects include an increased frequency of heat waves, rising sea levels that threaten low-lying communities, anticipated extremes in the global hydrologic cycle (droughts, floods, and intense storms), and adverse effects on agricultural production and fisheries due to environmental stressors and changes in land use. Indirectly, climate change is anticipated to threaten health by worsening urban air pollution and increasing rates of infectious (particularly waterborne and vector-borne) disease transmission.
Objective: To provide a state-of-the-science review on the health consequences of a changing climate.
Findings: Environmental public health researchers have concluded that, on balance, adverse health outcomes will dominate under these changed climatic conditions. The number of pathways through which climate change can affect the health of populations makes this environmental health threat one of the largest and most formidable of the new century. Geographic location plays an influential role the potential for adverse health effects caused by climate change, and certain regions and populations are more vulnerable than others to expected health effects. Two kinds of strategies are available for responding to climate change: mitigation policies (which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation measures (relating to preparedness for anticipated impacts).
Conclusions: To better understand and address the complex nature of health risks posed by climate change, interdisciplinary collaboration is critical. Efforts to move beyond our current reliance on fossil fuels to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources may offer some of the greatest health opportunities in more than a century and cobenefits beyond the health sector. Because the nations least responsible for climate change are most vulnerable to its effects, the challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not merely technical, but also moral.
Keywords: extreme weather events; global climate change; greenhouse gas emissions; health; vulnerable populations.
Copyright © 2014 Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.