Climate change is already taking a toll on human health, a toll that is likely to increase in coming decades. The relationship between risk perceptions and vulnerability to climate change's health threats has received little attention, even though an understanding of the dynamics of adaptation among particularly susceptible populations is becoming increasingly important. We demonstrate that some people whose health will suffer the greatest harms from climate change-due to social vulnerability, health susceptibility, and exposure to hazards-already feel they are at risk. In a 2013 survey we measured Maryland residents' climate beliefs, health risk perceptions, and household social vulnerability characteristics, including medical conditions (n = 2126). We paired survey responses with secondary data sources for residence in a floodplain and/or urban heat island to predict perceptions of personal and household climate health risk. General health risk perceptions, political ideology, and climate beliefs are the strongest predictors. Yet, people in households with the following characteristics also see themselves at higher risk: members with one or more medical conditions or disabilities; low income; racial/ethnic minorities; and residence in a floodplain. In light of these results, climate health communication among vulnerable populations should emphasize protective actions instead of risk messages.
Keywords: climate change communication; health risk perceptions; vulnerable populations.